Update 2 | 33 failed asylum seekers detained, one found to enjoy temporary protection

Ministry says arrest of over 30 irregular migrants forms part of ‘coordinated initiative on European level’ • But amid scarce information, reports reaching this news portal say among those detained are migrants who have been living here since 2004

Detained migrants being led inside the Safi detention centre this afternoon (Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday)
Detained migrants being led inside the Safi detention centre this afternoon (Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday)

Additional reporting by Yannick Pace

Thirty-three migrants who were given an appointment on Monday morning to renew their documents at the police headquarters received the shock of their lives when they were rounded up, detained and taken to the Safi detention centre as the government prepares to deport them.

MaltaToday is informed that immigration police arrested the group, which included men and women who have been living in Malta for a decade.

Human rights lawyer Neil Falzon, who this afternoon visited the failed asylum seekers at the detention centre, said Aditus will be meeting with officials from the Ministry for Home Affairs to discuss how people who have set up roots in Malta should be treated.

The surprise detention of the group of people sparked fears amongst the migrant community in Malta, as it follows the suspension of the temporary humanitarian protection (THPn).

Questions sent by MaltaToday on THPn and the arrest of the migrants have remained unanswered.

Unconfirmed sources say that the migrants are from Mali (Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday)
Unconfirmed sources say that the migrants are from Mali (Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday)

The government partially broke an 18-hour silence on the arrests, confirming that immigration police detained 33 foreigners who had been living in Malta for a number of years “irregularly”.

The ministry said that following the necessary verifications that were carried out by the Refugee Commissioner, one person was found to be benefitting from temporary humanitarian protection and was released.

Unconfirmed sources say that the migrants were from Mali.

 “The rest of the persons have been detained in view of a coordinated initiative at a European level,” the ministry said.

It added that, as part of this European operation, an African delegation will be visiting a number of EU member states, including Malta, to identify these persons and determine “the next step forward”.

When contacted, Falzon said that some of the people he spoke to arrived relatively recently whilst other have been living in Malta for some eight years.

“It is unfortunate that people living in Malta, and fulfilling their obligations by reporting to police, are detained. These people are not hiding and they are fulfilling all their obligations,” Falzon said.

 MaltaToday understands that the detained individuals were all given an appointment at the Police Headquarters on the same day so that they could be easily detained.

When asked to explain why they were being detained, Falzon said that he did not have such information, but said they are to be deported.

“We suspect that the ministry has been given the opportunity to repatriate people on a flight being organised by the EU, and have decided to deport these people,” said Falzon.

He also reiterated that the people detained were not on temporary humanitarian protection and confirmed that one had in fact been found to be receiving temporary humanitarian protection and was released.

Whilst the government insists that this is a coordinated effort on a European level, Malta has long adopted a system that tolerated the stay of immigrants without travel documents and accorded them the right to work and obligation to pay tax.

The Office of the Refugee Commissioner has currently suspended temporary humanitarian protection (THPn) pending a review of the system; however, this has left beneficiaries of THPn in the dark, especially since those who have tried to renew their papers found a closed door.

Such third-country nationals have had to renew their immigration status on a regular basis, so that they could also claim their working permit.

Information of what the review entails has left several failed asylum seekers clueless as to how the changes will affect their future.

The arrests fall under the European External Action Service and targets people from Niger, Nigeria, Mali, Senegal and Ethiopia.

The ministry insisted that persons who are entitled to protection will be granted such protection, whilst failed asylum seekers will be deported “and their rights protected thanks to a European agreement”.

“The Maltese government is committed to follow laws and international regulation and ensure that people who qualify for protection are protected. Those who do not qualify must be sent back, as European directives and laws state,” the Home Affairs Ministry reiterated.