President welcomes ‘milestone’ report on child migrants in Malta

Report by IOM and UNHCR puts forward recommendations on alternatives to detention of child migrants

President Marie Louise Coleiro Preca alongside IOM director general William Lacy Swing • Photo by Ray Attard
President Marie Louise Coleiro Preca alongside IOM director general William Lacy Swing • Photo by Ray Attard
Marie Louise Coleiro preca with MaltaToday blogger Farah Abdi • Photo by Ray Attard
Marie Louise Coleiro preca with MaltaToday blogger Farah Abdi • Photo by Ray Attard
Parliamentiary secretary for health Chris Fearne • Photo by Ray Attard
Parliamentiary secretary for health Chris Fearne • Photo by Ray Attard
President Marie Louise Coleiro Preca • Photo by Ray Attard
President Marie Louise Coleiro Preca • Photo by Ray Attard
Home affairs minister Manuel Mallia • Photo by Ray Attard
Home affairs minister Manuel Mallia • Photo by Ray Attard
IOM director general William Lacy Swing on migration in Malta • Video by Ray Attard

President Marie Louise Coleiro Preca augured that a report by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and the UN's refugee agency, UNHCR, on alternatives to the detention of child migrants in Malta “is a milestone for the wellbeing of Maltese society.”

During a meeting held at San Anton Palace, Coleiro Preca addressed governmental and civil society representatives who attended the launch of the report entitled ‘Unaccompanied Migrant and Refugee Children: Alternatives to Detention in Malta.” 

She expressed her hope that the report would “identify solutions” which would benefit both the country and migrants.

“I also hope that migrants increase their participation in the democratic process…above all may child migrants’ future be bright while enjoying their childhood today.”

Coleiro Preca also expressed her hope that child migrants would one day play a key role in the political and economic development of their own countries.  

In a brief address, IOM director general William Lacy Swing noted his satisfaction at the Maltese government’s “wisdom” to address the detention of children migrants.

While pointing out that “no country can shoulder the weight alone,” he said “large scale migration is inevitable” given the unprecedented scale of number of natural disasters, conflicts and economic adversities around the world.

“We don’t see migration as a problem to be solved but as a challenge to be accepted and addressed in the appropriate manner,” he said.

Noting that the number of people on the move today is greater than any other time in recorded history, with around one billion people currently looking for a new home, Swing said “I cannot remember, at least in my lifetime, as many simultaneous events which are forcefully displacing people.”

He called on the Maltese authorities to ensure that the report “is not filed away” and underlined the need for immediate action.

“We have resources and tools but Malta needs to make the plan happen,” he said, warning that among others authorities need to address the negative discourse on migration and the delicate integration process.  

In a video message, UNHCR chief António Guterres thanked Coleiro Preca for the initiative at a time when the whole world was facing challenging times given the conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Sudan and elsewhere.

“Thousands are currently fleeing conflict and persecution and seeking sea routes tow3ards safer places,” he said, adding that this year alone up to 3,000 asylum seekers have either died or gone missing in the Mediterranean.

Guterres added that legal alternatives must be explored in order to avoid more deaths at sea and called for a “common vision” as children depend on “our collective success.”

The meeting was also addressed by home affairs minister Manuel Mallia who while reassuring Swing that “the file will not gather dust on a shelve,” warned that health and security concerns remain “a paramount priority.”

“This government has long recognised the need to open reception centres for child migrants instead of keeping them in detention,” Mallia said, adding that minors were given freedom and all the necessary care.

However, the minister insisted that detention of adult migrants, which currently can last up to 18 months, will remain because the country’s security and health concerns “cannot be waived.”

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