Cumbersome visa application procedure leads to second arrest in a week

Libyan arraigned in court this afternoon, after airport customs officers discovered 9 passports in his baggage as he arrived on a flight from Libya.

Lawyers for a Libyan businessman residing in Malta, who was charged today with receiving passports that do not belong to him, has once again hit out at the physically impossible requirement that original passports be submitted in Malta, together with applications for entry visas - before the bearer's arrival from countries which lack a functioning Maltese visa office.

Inspector Frank Sammut from the Immigration police presented Mohamed Ramdan Mostfa Mousa under arrest before magistrate Gabriella Vella this afternoon, after airport customs officers found 9 passports in his baggage on his arrival on a flight from Libya.

The inspector told the court that Mousa is a director of a Libyan hospital and represents the Ben Mousa Hospital Group in Malta. The accused had explained to the officers that the passports had been handed to him right before his departure by an airport employee who had asked him to do him a favour and apply for the visas.  He had never met the people whose passports he was carrying, the court was told.

The law prohibits the transferring of passports to persons other than the person in whose name the passport is issued. Mousa had a valid passport and Maltese residence permit of his own and also owns property in Malta, said the inspector.

But defence lawyers Arthur Azzopardi and Shazoo Ghaznavi told the court that Libyans effectively had no other means of obtaining a visa to travel. He explained that previously, as there was no Maltese visa office in Libya, travellers would apply for a 15-day visa at the airport upon their arrival. But this practise had been stopped and replaced by a 90-day visa which required applicants to apply in advance and give notice of where they would be staying. Unfortunately, said the lawyer, the current reality in Libya meant that there was no way of the Libyan public being informed of this change.

Azzopardi explained that the Central Visa Unit was insisting that in order to apply for a visa, the original, physical passports must be presented in Malta, in advance of the bearer’s arrival. Even less practical was its policy of refusing to accept passports delivered by courier, only accepting passports brought to the airport by the person hosting the visitor.

This effectively left Libyans with one option: that of sending their physical passports, together with their visa applications, with someone else in advance of their arrival. “How is the host supposed to physically bring the passports for processing otherwise?” asked the lawyer.

Mousa, who did not testify, was released on bail against a deposit of €300 and a personal guarantee of €1000. A representative of the Central Visa Unit is expected to be summoned to testify about the Libyan visa system when case continues on Wednesday.

The arraignment comes less than a week after the arrest of two Syrian men who, upon arrival in Malta had also been found to be carrying 10 passports belonging to family members, which they had planned to submit as part of an application for visas. Hamrun resident Mosab Iliwi, 23 and 31 year-old Najm Ryad from Paola were released on bail after being arrested on the 25th August at Malta International Airport upon their arrival on a flight from Istanbul. The men, who have lived in Malta for a number of years, are Syrian refugees and also enjoy subsidiary protection.


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