Deportation: populist rhetoric drowned in inaccuracies

Malta already has legislation in place for deportation, but politicians want it to seem as if it’s otherwise

File photo
File photo

A fight which broke out among Syrian co-nationals on the High Street in Ħamrun a fortnight ago has reignited the debate over immigration in Malta.

In an island now well populated by high-skilled migrants as well as lower-skilled labour imported from outside the EU, the issue of foreigners in Malta was never part of the national debate during a summer with rare arrivals of asylums seekers rescued at sea.

But a number of MPs responded to the social media chatter baying for blood, after a video of the fight in Ħamrun went viral, with two police officers clearly outnumbered and unable to quell the full-scale brawl of some 10 men.

Nationalist MP Adrian Delia was among the first to comment on the issue, calling out the the lack of police presence in the areas of Ħamrun and Marsa. “Five years ago, I had visited the Marsa police station, and despite the endemic problems of the area it was closed,” he said. “Since then, the situation has not only improved, but worsened.”

Later on, interviewed on F Living, he also linked the perceived downturn in people’s quality of life and purchasing power, to the global inflation crisis and the economic impact of a high migration rate to Malta. “People used to live a decent life on €1,000 a month but now the population has increased by 100,000 in 10 years and some have reduced the power of our salaries through precarious work and poor work conditions,” he claimed.

Delia’s rhetoric on immigration is not new, having made it one of his policy planks during the 2019 European elections as PN leader. But the PN’s newcomer MP Darren Carabott was also on the bandwagon, saying Ħamrun had changed since his days as a young boy. “How can we expect people to shop from Strada Rjali, when apart from issues with generation which is killing businesses, there is also the issue of security?”

Yet other MPs took it even further, calling for the deportation of all foreigners found breaking the law. The PN’s Gozitan MP Alex Borg said he expected the Maltese courts to deport all those involved in the fight, while party heavyweight and shadow home affairs minister Joe Giglio – a criminal defence lawyer – said “foreigners who break the law” should also be “immediately removed”.

But legislation, specifically the Immigration Act, shows that Malta already has laws in place for foreigners to be returned to their country of origin in cases of certain illegalities.

Article 14 of the Immigration Act allows for the deportation of prohibited migrants. A migrant becomes a prohibited migrant in a number of circumstances listed in Article 5(2) of the Immigration Act, which include for example: non-compliance with the conditions under which permission to enter or a residence permit was granted, if a person is unable to show that they have the means of supporting themselves or their dependants, and also in those circumstances if they are found guilty of an offence punishable with imprisonment of over one year.

Lawyer and Aditus Foundation assistant director Carla Camilleri said there are a number of legal steps which are taken before an individual is deported. “Once a person is considered to be a prohibited migrant by the Principal Immigration Officer (PIO) then they are liable to return to their country of origin or habitual residence,” she said.

Once the PIO establishes that a person is a prohibited migrant, a return decision may be issued against that person, which once accompanied by a removal order, means the person can be detained pending their removal. If the person is subject to criminal proceedings or serving a sentence of imprisonment, then the minister responsible for immigration, may give directions as to whether whole or part of the sentence is to be served before the return from Malta – otherwise, that person can be removed only after serving the sentence.

But any person issued with a return decision can appeal the decision in front of the Immigration Appeals Board (IAB) within three days from the decision. And even the detention of a person subject to removal can also be challenged, although under very limited circumstances.

Although pre-removal detention is allowed, Malta is under an obligation to act with sufficient diligence in their efforts to deport such persons without delay.

Camilleri said there are specific crimes for which an individual can be deported. The White Slave Traffic Ordinance, which includes inducing persons to prostitution, living off the earnings of prostitution and keeping brothels, as well as the Dangerous Drugs Ordinance, could all be used as reasoning for deportation. “Furthermore, a person can be deported if found guilty of a crime, other than involuntary homicide or bodily harm, which is punishable with imprisonment for a term of more than one year or in the case of a second crime, is punishable for a term of over three months,” she said.

Deportation also depends on the migrants’ country of origin. “There have been situations where a country does not recognise that a particular individual is a national of that country. This could occur due to a number of factors, such as displacement post-conflict, discrimination against minority groups, state succession, gaps or conflicts in nationality laws, or policies to deny or strip people of nationality,” Camilleri said.

Furthermore, the country of origin from where that person is could not be particularly cooperative, or Malta would not have strong diplomatic ties with it. This would render the recognition of citizens and the issuing of emergency travel documents problematic, if not impossible.

“Malta cannot return refugees, even those who have committed crimes, if they will face torture, inhuman or degrading treatment upon return to their country of origin,” Camilleri said.