Life on a 12-month lease

Migrants granted subsidiary forms of protection have no avenue of becoming Maltese citizens, but they still live without any form of security when their international protection has to be renewed every 12 months.

It's hard living with the fear that your protection expires after 12 months
It's hard living with the fear that your protection expires after 12 months

The debate on citizenship, previously never a contentious issue, was recently sparked up over who should be granted citizenship and how.

Naturalisation in Malta remains at the discretion of the minister, a situation that has opened the floodgates for politicisation, more so since the present administration introduced the IIP, the citizenship-by-investment programme. Which begs the question: how moral is to complain about migration when Malta, by its own admission “too densely populated”, is offering residency to the rich? Yes, money talks – that’s the world we live in.

Politicians defending the IIP have been keen to point out that many non-Maltese nationals, including asylum seekers, have married Maltese nationals in a bid to obtain citizenship. But such marriages of convenience have been detrimental to spouses and their children, even leading to cases of domestic violence.

But what about migrants who have been granted some form of international protection: can they become naturalised Maltese citizens?

Citizenship through naturalisation is open to migrants who have refugee status only, and then only after 10 unbroken years of living in Malta. The government has the discretion to decide whether to grant citizenship, also based on whether the applicant has become self-sufficient.

That means that the option of becoming a permanent citizen of Malta is not open to those with subsidiary or temporary humanitarian protection. When asylum seekers arrive in Malta, they are fingerprinted and their prints stored in the EURODAC database, in a bid to prevent migrants from shopping for asylum in other EU countries. Once they apply for asylum through the Commissioner of Refugees, they are called in for a detailed interview, and later wait for the outcome of the decision on their asylum claim: a decision that will inform their legal situation inside the country.

I have refugee status, the highest form of protection.

But you might want to know more about those who don’t have refugee protection, and instead have been granted subsidiary or temporary humanitarian protection.

I spoke to a single mother of two, who has subsidiary protection, inside one of the container units at the Hal Far open centre. Despite the deplorable conditions, the morning rush hour inside the centre has an air of normalcy, with people up and about doing one thing or another. She asks me: “For how long is your protection certificate?” to which I answer, three years.

She shakes her head as if in denial. “Every document I have has an expiry date of one year. How am I expected to keep this up with time running after me? My documents expire without me even using them, and I have to pay registration fees over and again for them. In the meantime, I cannot access certain service until I wait for my ID card.”

Other migrants at Hal Far who speak to me open up about the challenges of bureaucracy: a young man in his late 20s, also a beneficiary of temporary humanitarian protection, says he has been working in the country for seven years, paying tax, and yet having lost his job, is not entitled to social security. “I was thrown out of my house, because I could not afford to pay rent after losing my job. I am forced to seek shelter at the open centre, having to start my life from scratch.”

As my friend, civil rights activist Dr Maria Pisani tells me, migrants’ rights remain a vote-loser in Malta. “Positive talk on migration is a vote loser. The political class is not ready to sacrifice the trappings of power in the name of humanity. They choose to take a negative stand on migration, because that’s the general mood in the country. Even when all is said and done, they know half of what they are saying does not hold any ground.”