Immigrant relocation and repatriation registered ‘significant progress’, NAO follow-up audit finds

Auditor General Charles Deguara presents the Speaker with a report containing several follow-up audits to determine whether recommendations made were taken up

Record number of irregular migrants were returned to country of origin in 2021 and 2023
Record number of irregular migrants were returned to country of origin in 2021 and 2023

Significant progress has been registered by the government in the relocation and repatriation of irregular immigrants, the National Audit Office said in a follow-up audit.

The audit said the Maltese authorities managed to relocate 1,143 migrants between 2019 and 2021 and further progress registered since January 2021, with “a record number of irregular migrants returned in 2021 and 2023 to date”.

Released today, the NAO report analysis the outcome of recommendations made in a 2021 audit on whether government was fulfilling its obligations in relation to asylum seekers. It forms part of a wider report that contains several follow-up investigations of other audits concerning different aspects of public administration.

On the asylum process, the follow-up audit found a mixed bag of achievements.

Significant progress was achieved on relocation and repatriation as a result of increased collaboration between the police immigration section and a newly set-up returns unit within the Home Affairs Ministry, and increased outreach to several countries of origin.

Similarly, significant progress was registered in the care and services offered to asylum seekers by the Detention Services.

The NAO had recommended better coordination with other entities to ensure they are actively aware of the history of the asylum seekers within their care and facilitate the services, care and contact with relatives, acquaintances or legal aid required.

The follow-up audit found that significant progress was achieved in this regard but still more is required. “The NAO notes that the situation whereby DS is proactively guiding the detainees towards the care and services they might require is still not evident…Nonetheless, the NAO notes the following progress since the publication of the original audit report in 2021.”

Other recommendations were found to have been partly implemented such as support for the detention process through funding, and ensuring adequate living quarters and conditions for asylum seekers in detention.

The follow-up audit notes that in 2021, the Detention Service embarked on a large-scale refurbishment process of all its compounds.

But the NAO said “insignificant progress” was made on a recommendation to provide information and support for life after detention through coordination amongst the responsible entities.

The ministry responded that most migrants in detention are either asylum seekers with a very low recognition rate, and hence likely to have their application rejected, or are pending return to their country of origin. It insisted that there is no need to have a comprehensive plan for initiatives of life after detention.

“NAO notes that the MHSR position does not fully take cognisance of the fact that repatriation of failed asylum applicants is a complex and lengthy process where in reality many people remain in Malta for a significant period,” the NAO said in its reaction.

Follow-up audits

This was the second follow-up audit carried out by the NAO to determine the extent of implementation of the main recommendations that had been made in the original audit reports.

The report was tabled in parliament on Monday and contains follow-up audits on the following reports: IT Audit - Armed Forces of Malta; Tackling Child Abuse; Is LESA suitably geared to perform its traffic enforcement function adequately?; Fulfilling obligations in relation to asylum seekers; Community Care for Older Persons.

In its findings the NAO noted that 84% of its recommendations in the above mentioned audits were either implemented, in part or in full, or were in the process of being implemented by the ministries and entities concerned.