Disintegrating the integrated | A joint editorial by MaltaToday, Times of Malta, the Malta Independent

A government policy designed to break people into submission or destitution, pushing people to live in a state of limbo, is nothing short of inhuman and degrading treatment, a serious human rights breach

Today MaltaToday, The Times of Malta, and The Malta Independent have joined forces to call on the Maltese government to review Malta’s arbitrary system of ‘temporary humanitarian protection’ and to regularise the position of detained migrants whose looming ejection from the island appears to be guided by opportunistic politics rather than reasoned policy.

Malta has to accept a reality of ‘non-returnable’ migrants who have been subject to return procedures, but who cannot be returned for legal or logistical reasons, due to no fault of their own.

The status known as THPN (Temporary Humanitarian Protection – New) was first introduced in 2010, by means of a policy decision of the then Home Affairs Ministry.

This regularisation is granted in cases where these people cannot be removed from the country, but are allowed a one-year, renewable residence permit subject to documented evidence of “their integration efforts and employment history in Malta”.

Until last year, there were just under 1,000 such people with THPN. While all had their asylum claims rejected at appeal stage, they remain in Malta because the authorities have not been able to return them, through no fault of their own. In many cases, this is due to the lack of diplomatic relations between Malta and the state of origin and lack of cooperation from national authorities in the migrants’ state of origin.

Now that the status has been inexplicably suspended and THPN withdrawn, we are flagging a very worrying development in the policy of a government that currently holds the presidency of the European Council.

The government has removed the ability of these people to renew their residence and work permits, without prior notice or timelines as to when they could expect information or decisions on their statuses.

The people directly impacted have all lived and worked in Malta for years – some for as long as 18 years and all for at least nine (since they arrived before 2007). Most are from West African countries, and among them are many children born in Malta.

The withdrawal of THPN has plunged these families into difficulties that include obtaining medication and inability to cash cheques. Concern has also been expressed by Maltese employers, wondering how this decision will impact their ability to retain migrant workers.

The current system was far from perfect, but THPN brought a significant improvement in the lives of beneficiaries, giving them a measure of security and access to a number of basic rights and services, protecting them from exploitation.

Today, our news organisations join other human rights organisations in Malta to demand the regularisation of non-returnable migrants. A glance at the lives of THPN beneficiaries reveals an impressive level of social integration.

The government needs to move from a system of concessions to real rights, and beyond that, address post-2008 migrants who have not been granted THPN and who live in limbo with limited access to rights, services and benefits. They are known to the authorities and granted ‘tolerated stay’, extended by ‘checking-in’ at the police headquarters. This is a wholly precarious existence placing these people at risk of poverty, vulnerable to exploitation.

Such lack of regulation and wilful disenfranchisement is unacceptable.

We understand the State has a right to return those who have no legal right to stay, but it also has a duty to ensure returns are carried out in a timely manner and with respect for human rights.

We join a call for a policy that strikes a balance between respect for individual rights and the State’s right to return those with no legal right to stay.

A government policy designed to break people into submission or destitution, pushing people to live in a state of limbo, is nothing short of inhuman and degrading treatment, a serious human rights breach.

We are asking the Prime Minister and the Home Affairs Minister to clearly define the THP criteria.

We also ask for legal pathways for regularisation for non-returnable migrants known to the authorities and who have not obstructed the authorities’ legitimate attempts to enforce return: this is clearly in line with wishes expressed by the Maltese prime minister as Council president.

Surely now is the time to do unto others, as you would have them do unto you: by answering a call for policies that are built on judicious reasoning, human rights, and inspired by a true spirit of solidarity.