[WATCH] Home Affairs Minister rejects calls to give migrant children born in Malta citizenship

Government has 'no plans' to give Maltese citizenship to children born in Malta, Home Affairs Minister Carmelo Abela insists

Carmelo Abela: No citizenship for children born in Malta to undocumented migrants (Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday)
Carmelo Abela: No citizenship for children born in Malta to undocumented migrants (Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday)

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Home Affairs Minister Carmelo Abela has brushed off calls to give Maltese citizenship to children born in Malta to migrant parents.

“These children are registered and have been provided with documents that record their place of birth, but the government has no plans to give them Maltese citizenship,” he told the press.

In the past, every person born in Malta was automatically entitled to Maltese citizenship. However, since 2001, that law only applies to people born before 1 August 1989. Those born after that date are now only entitled to Maltese citizenship if their father or mother is a current or former Maltese citizen or was born in Malta. Since many asylum seekers are undocumented, this effectively means that their children are left stateless - with their documentation only stating their names, place of birth and protection status, but not their nationality.

The plight of stateless children in Malta was laid bare again today when three Malta-born children of Nigerian parents were told in writing by the Refugee Commissioner to send copies of their work documents and rent agreements in order to renew their protection statuses.

The three children, aged 20 months, 3 years, 5 and 8, along with their mother are currently protected by Temporary Humanitarian Protection (THPn) status. This is an ex gratia type of protection that used to be granted to failed asylum seekers, that the government recently decided to scrap entirely, leaving previously protected migrants at risk of deportation.

THPn holders have now been given until 31 October to procure a valid passport from their countries of origin that will allow them to apply with Identity Malta for residence and work permits.

However, university lecturer Colin Calleja told MaltaToday that many of these migrants are undocumented, posing significant challenges for them in procuring their passports from their countries of origin. Indeed, such a problem recently surfaced when police arrested a group of failed asylum seekers who had self-identified to the Maltese authorities as Malian, but were forced to free 15 of them after a Malian delegation failed to prove their identities.

“They have effectively been left in a state of limbo, and the consequences are that some of them have stopped working and gone into hiding, and that some are suffering from mental health issues,” Calleja said.

He therefore urged the government to grant Maltese citizenship to stateless migrant children – a call recently made by the newly-fledged Partit Demokratiku – and to regularise all current THPn holders.

When asked about this reality, Abela insisted that it should be the responsibility of the migrants themselves to sort out their identification problems with their home countries. 

“They should get their identification documents from their own countries, that is something that is their own responsibility,” he said. “As a civilized and democratic country, we should not accept a state of play where people are living here without any identification, and the truth is that a lot of immigrants here come undocumented.

“I am not suggesting that the Nigerian family has bad intentions, but that the rules of a civilized country state that they must have documentation and that the law must be observed.”

However, he assured that in no way will the government’s policy lead to children being split up from their parents, as different laws govern the right of families to live together.

‘Still waiting for Mali to give us documents for detained migrants’

Abela also revealed that the government is still awaiting documentation from the Malian authorities for the nine migrants who have been locked up at the Safi detention centre since 16 November.

“The Malian identification team arrived in Malta in early December. We had hoped that we would receive the migrants’ documents a few days later, but they have still not arrived four weeks down the line,” he said. “We are in regular contact with the Malian authorities but don’t yet have any indication as to when the documents will arrive.”

Abela indicated that the government might be open to the idea of freeing the migrants from the detention centre in the eventuality that their documents don’t arrive or take too long to arrive.

“We hope that the documents arrive as soon as possible, but in the eventuality that they don’t, then we will take a decision from there.”

He also said that he will ask the head of the detention centre to look into recent stories that one of the migrants has become suicidal and that they are being served sub-standard breakfasts.

“If things need to improve, then I will be first in line to insist that they do,” he said. “However, maintenance work was recently carried out on the centre and while it isn’t a five-star hotel, I have not heard any objections about its state – neither from NGOs, not from the detention centre board.”

Video is unavailable at this time.

Video is unavailable at this time.

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