Asylum claimants denied work if they hail from ‘safe countries’

Asylum seekers on safe-country-of-origin list prevented from seeking job for nine months under new government rules

Asylum seekers aboard a rescue boat in 2016
Asylum seekers aboard a rescue boat in 2016

The government has been urged to immediately revoke new policies precluding asylum seekers from certain countries from legal employment, a practice which is being described as “discriminatory and inhumane.”

In statement on Saturday a group of 28 organisations expressed extreme concern at a new policy that precludes certain asylum seekers from legal employment for 9 months, saying it is aimed at denying people the possibility of working and earning a living in Malta.

“It is clear that this decision will deprive hundreds of people, including families, of the income necessary to secure a minimum level of human dignity and self-reliance. Already vulnerable to labour exploitation, including wages far below the minimum wage, asylum-seekers and failed asylum-seekers will be pushed further into the dark as they will inevitably clutch at any opportunity to secure basics such as shelter, food and water, clothing, services and transport in order to survive.”

In May, the Ministry for Home Affairs, National Security and Law Enforcement amended Malta’s approach on how people seeking asylum in Malta, or who sought asylum here and had their applications rejected, may or may not work.

“The new policy focuses on a list of countries deemed safe by the Minister, whereby nationals of these countries are effectively punished for exercising their fundamental human rights to seek protection from persecution.”

The NGOs pointed out that asylum-seekers from a country deemed safe will experience forced redundancy for up to nine months before being allowed to work. Persons from such countries whose asylum applications are rejected will only be able to work in Malta under exceptional circumstances.

“Aside from the fact that the Minister’s assessment of these countries’ safety is highly questionable, this discriminatory policy fails to mention what other forms of support Malta will provide to persons who would be facing poverty or be at risk of poverty as a direct and intended consequence of these policy changes. Our experience, as that of NGOs working in the sector of poverty relief, is that the absence of any meaningful State support will leave these communities no other options than resorting to extreme labour exploitation, criminal or other irregular activity, or dependence on the material support provided by non-State entities such as NGOs, friends and social networks, and the Church.”

Those persons who are not in contact with such support structures will be further marginalised thereby increasing the risks of mental health problems, substance abuse and chronic illness, added the NGOs.

“Additionally, we ask how the Government expects affected persons will access healthcare if they are unable to pay for it? How will their children attend school if they are unable to buy books, uniforms and other supplies? How will other necessary services be accessible? What will this policy do to social cohesion and inclusion in Malta? How does it fit with other policies and measures that are geared towards promoting inclusion and acceptance? Malta’s first Covid-19 wave, in early 2020, gave us a very good idea of how a sudden denial or significant reduction of income led to extremely serious situations of material deprivation. Almost overnight, our offices, as those of scores of other NGOs and relief- providers, were swamped with calls for assistance to cover the most basic of needs.”

The impact of these policy amendments will cut off an already unstable source of income for hundreds of such workers, leading to immediate poverty, they said. “The intention is crystal clear, and it shocks us that the Government is able to even consider such an inhumane approach to its migration management.”