[WATCH] Malians facing deportation released after three months

Malians facing deportation – some of whom have been living in Malta for years – released from arrest after 90 days

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Malians facing deportation released after three months
Carmelo Abela said the lack of documentation from Mali led to the government releasing nine detainees facing deportation. Photo: James Bianchi
Carmelo Abela said the lack of documentation from Mali led to the government releasing nine detainees facing deportation. Photo: James Bianchi

The nine Malians who were under arrest for three months will be released today, because "there is no indication of when Mali will send documents", home affairs minister Carmelo Abela has said.

The nine migrants were the last remaining of 33 Malians who were rounded up and detained on 16 November last year, as part of a joint EU programme which saw the EU agree to provide aid to Mali in return for the West African country’s commitment to accept failed asylum seekers.

Describing the Malians as "failed asylum seekers," Abela said the men will be deported to Mali "once paper work comes through."

"All EU countries have recognised the challenge posed by immigration," Abela said.

"You have immigrants who leave their homeland fleeing war...and economic migrants. The facts as they stand today mean the latter are returned." It did not emerge that the Malians qualified for humanitarian protection, he said.

The Malian migrants have been locked up in detention since 16 November
The Malian migrants have been locked up in detention since 16 November

“An economic immigrant who doesn't qualify for asylum is going to be sent back.”

The issue is being discussed "at EU level" Abela said, pointing out that the issue had been discussed in every EU-level meeting of minster s of the interior. This had beem confirmed in the Malta summit, he said, which "highlighted the need for work to be done to tackle the challenge of returning illegal migrants."

Malta has a comparitively high amount of cases of granting protection, he claimed.

“The question is 'what is their status?' Their staus is that they are failed asylum seekers. According to EU directives, they have to be deported to their country of origin...The only action for failed asylum seekers not only in Malta but across the EU is to return them to their country of origin."

“These are failed asylum seekers and their status will remain as such until they are deported.”

The announcement was welcomed by a number of NGOs who reiterated that the arrest of the men was not in compliance with applicable norms, “and that is we demanded their immediate release.”

Noting that the home affairs minister confirmed that difficulties obtaining documentation from Mali was impeding the men’s deportation, possibly for an indefinite period, the NGOs said “human rights, EU and Maltese law only allow States to detain migrants prior to their removal when the removal is actually being pursued with due diligence.”

The statement was signed by aditus foundation, African Media Association, The Critical Institute, Integra Foundation, International Association for Refugees, JRS Malta, KOPIN, Malta Emigrants’ Commission, Migrant Women Association Malta, Migrant Network for Equality, Moviment Graffitti, Organisation for Friendship in Diversity, People for Change Foundation, Solidarity with Migrants group, SOS Malta and Spark15.

“We look forward to further engagement with the Ministry for Home Affairs and National Security to explore ways of ensuring a national migration framework that truly upholds human rights principles,” the NGOs said.  

They also expressed their gratitude to all supporters of the “gruelling campaign”, especially the media organisations that joined forces for this initiative.

NGOs were planning a Valentine Day vigil tonight at the Safi barracks were the men have been held under arrest for 90 days after a group of activists and academics launched the ‘Free the Nine’ campaign to pressure the authorities into releasing the migrants.

The arrest of the Malians could have caused international embarrassment for government and last week NGOs urged government to release the nine men from detention immediately. 

The prolonged detention of the nine Malian migrants ahead of their planned deportation goes against national and EU law and breaches their human dignity, a group of human rights NGOs warned.

In an open letter to Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and Abela, the NGOs said “EU and national law clearly state that a government’s power to detain migrants for the purposes of removal is not absolute".

“Detention should only be used as a measure of last resort, where it is strictly necessary and where it is not possible to use other less coercive measures to effect return, particularly because of a risk of absconding or lack of cooperation on the part of the individual concerned.

The group of migrants – some of whom have been living in Malta for the past eight years – used to regularly report to the police headquarters to get their papers renewed. However, in November, they appeared for their appointment to renew their documents, only to end up being detained and taken to the detention centre with plans to deport them.

Four of them were later released following a review carried out by the Office of the Refugee Commissioner. In December, a further 15 migrants were released, followed by another four.

Their arrest came after the government’s decision to revoke temporary humanitarian protection-New (THPn) permits that used to be issued to failed asylum seekers on an annual basis.

"Their status remains that of failed asylum seekers," Abela told a press conference this afternoon. "If the documents arrive, the police will then seek the people out and deport them if necessary."

Abela said that the nine male migrants were positively identified as Malian nationals by a delegation from Mali that visited Malta on 6 and 7 December to conduct interviews.

However, the Maltese government is still awaiting documentation from the Malian authorities for the nine migrants two months down the line. In January, Abela had indicated that the government might be open to releasing the migrants from the detention centre if their documents take too long to arrive.