Girl, 16, to apply for asylum after admitting use of stolen passport to flee persecution

Teenage asylum seeker asked police officers, who arrested her for holding a stolen passport, which country she was in

A 16-year-old girl from a Middle Eastern country has been found guilty of using a stolen passport after fleeing to Europe to escape persecution.

The girl, who is not being named on account of her age and whose country of origin and particular circumstances are being withheld on court order, to protect her safety, had been helped to escape the country by her family after members of a group she formed part of “disappeared.”

The case comes hot on the heels of a similar case, in which two Turkish teachers fleeing the Erdogan regime had been jailed for using fake passports. Their prison sentence was suspended on appeal earlier this month.

“This is a genuine case and she is a vulnerable girl,” prosecuting Inspector Frankie Sammut told magistrate Josette Demicoli this morning.

She was apprehended at the airport after presenting a Danish passport that had been reported stolen. The girl was duly charged with passport-related offences this morning.

“This is a delicate case” defence lawyer Benjamin Valenzia said, informing the court that the girl would be applying for asylum on the grounds of persecution, after what had happened to her friends.

Inspector Sammut agreed with the defence, saying that while it was important to have uniformity in sentencing, every case had to be taken on its own merits.

“She didn’t know she was in Malta, in fact she asked where she was when she was arrested,” said the inspector.

The girl was being held at a secure facility, and hoped to reunite with family members on mainland Europe, he added.

The court observed that the girl was emotional and in shock and directed her to sit down at one point. “She has no reason to fear. The authorities are already taking care of her wellbeing,” the magistrate reassured her, through an interpreter.

The court made sure the girl understood the charges and explained the law to her. The crime carries with it a prison sentence, explained the magistrate, but the fact that the accused is underage, as well as her particular circumstances would be taken into account in handing down sentence.

The magistrate allowed the girl to speak to her lawyer outside the courtroom before entering a plea.

The magistrate also observed that the prosecution and defence were also in agreement in that no effective prison sentence was required in this case and that the defence had already declared that the accused would be applying for asylum.

When she returned to the hall, the accused pleaded guilty to the charges.

The court found her guilty on her own admission, sentencing her to two months in prison, suspended for eight months. The magistrate explained the implications of this sentence to the accused.

The Association for the Welfare of Asylum Seekers would be assisting the girl from here on, the court was told.

The court upheld Valenzia’s request for a ban on the name of the accused as she is a minor as well as on her country of origin and the particular reasons for which she had to leave the country.