‘Let’s make child migrants’ dreams come true’ – Coleiro Preca

President of Malta underlines need to allow child migrants live their childhood and ensure that their dreams come true 

Marie Louise Coleiro Preca (photo by Ray Attard)
Marie Louise Coleiro Preca (photo by Ray Attard)
The conference on unaccompanied child migrants was held at the University of Malta's Valletta Campus
The conference on unaccompanied child migrants was held at the University of Malta's Valletta Campus

Exclusion and hatred impoverish humanity, President Marie Louise Coleiro Preca said today, calling for an immediate end to the detention of unaccompanied child migrants.

In her keynote speech during a conference organised by the University of Malta’s youth studies and international relations departments in collaboration with NOHA, an international network of universities in the humanitarian sector, the President said that while migration posed a “complex challenge we cannot overlook the wellbeing of children.”

Insisting that the country “should never lose focus on humanity” Coleiro Preca said that Malta and Europe should look beyond the mere survival of child migrants who should be given the space to live their childhood in full and the opportunity to shape their lives.

In an impassioned plea, she said “frequently child migrants are the dream weavers among us and we should not shatter their dreams but we should help them realise these dreams.”

This, she said could be achieved by firstly ending detention of unaccompanied child migrants and “allow them to be children.” The President added that the services provided should be more sensitive to children’s traumas, individual needs and differences.

In a refreshing speech, the former social policy minister said that “diversity enriches life” and argued that the more child migrants are isolated the more at risk of being exposed to abuse they are.   

Calling for the creation of a safety network for unaccompanied migrants across Europe, the President said that child migrants should be allowed to “put their desired destination on the table.”

Stressing the need to “listen” to children, Coleiro Preca said that Europe should provide a better future to African asylum seekers, especially child migrants, which would also benefit the two continents in the long-run.  

“Our responsibility is to ensure that children enjoy life…we should not kill their hopes but we should commit ourselves to provide care and protection and ensure that their dreams, hopes and desires come true.”

Hostility and marginalisation would not only have a negative effect on the children but on society too, Coleiro Preca said, adding that civil society has an important role to play in helping  child migrants integrate in society.

“When children and youth arrive in Malta they feel disorientated and confused and we must be more cultural sensitive,” the President said, underlining the need to promote intercultural dialogue.

Coleiro Preca, “No matter what they go through to survive, they remain children. We know that they possibly were exposed to abuse and suffering and my hope is to have a country which gives new hope to migrant children.”

Noting that she had initiated a consultation process on the detention of child migrants before becoming President, Coleiro Preca said that she was “delighted” by the efforts undertaken by the University of Malta which was giving space to migrants themselves to determine and shape policy.

In March, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said that the detention of children asylum seekers in Malta should come to an end. Coleiro Preca, who has long championed the cause, added that “giving visibility to children” would guide government in formulating its policy.

Around 27% of migrants who reached Malta in 2013 were minors and a 2009 study by the Maltese National Contact Point of the European Migration Network found an average detention time of 1.6 months for the 10 unaccompanied minors in their focus group.

Currently, Malta detains all age-disputed cases pending an age determination process, and as a result children below the age of 18 may be detained for weeks or months, despite alternative available facilities.

During detention, children are detained with adults, without any accommodation for their young age, and with no access to school.

Under international and European standards, unaccompanied children should never be detained for reasons related to irregular entry, and pending age determination the person claiming to be a child should be treated as such until the determination is complete.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child said in 2013 that states should “expeditiously and completely cease the detention of children on the basis of their immigration status”.