Resettlement pledges should be matched by better reception conditions

Malta expects member states to take on a share of the asylum seekers fleeing the Libyan conflict, but NGOs say it should match the commitment with decent reception conditions for migrants.

The Maltese government is hoping it will receive ‘pledges’ from European Union member states Thursday to take asylum seekers who recently arrived in Malta from Libya, but NGOs are hoping the government will match the gesture with a commitment towards upgrading detention centres.

Over 1,000 asylum seekers have poured into Malta fleeing the effects of the Libyan conflict, but conditions at the detention centres, much criticised by human rights watchdogs, seem to remain dismal.

Families moved into a hangar at Hal Far have complained about the conditions in which they are living – the pungent smell of domestic sewage, dirty pools of water gathered in gutters around the hangar, and dirty floors according to an Ethiopian migrant, Dawit Metamu, 35. “All the children here are under four years old, the youngest one four months old and another six months. In the night it is cold here, there is garbage close to our tents, a smell of sewage, dirty toilets and rats,” he told MaltaToday in April.

News of a pledging conference at the margins of Thursday’s meeting for EU home affairs ministers, where the European Commission will ‘invite’ other member states to make pledges of resettlement, have been welcomed by NGOs.

But they have equally stated that the pledges must be backed up by a commitment from the Maltese government to improve detention centres.

“I do hope that what is pledged is also coupled with an insistence that Malta immediately upgrades its treatment of refugees,” said Neil Falzon of human rights NGO Aditus and a former representation of the UN refugee agency in Malta.

“The pledging conference is of itself a welcome initiative. It will be the EU’s opportunity to concretise the principle of solidarity, not only with Malta but more importantly with refugees who, having fled persecution and civil war, are now facing immense difficulties in Malta.”

Falzon is however “not envisaging a significant commitment” from the member states – Germany recently committed itself with the highest pledge to take 100 asylum seekers.

Falzon says that the pledges must now be backed up by human rights guarantees.

“A policy that intentionally insists on detaining refugees and then dumping them in a rat-infested hangar with children contracting illnesses due to diesel-covered floors is simply unacceptable.

“It should not be excused by labelling it an emergency or by saying we don’t have enough resources. Concretely, I urge the Commission and member states to couple their solidarity efforts with a strong reiteration that refugees should enjoy their fundamental human rights as also protected by EU law.”

His appeal is shared by Fr Joseph Cassar, the director of the Jesuit Refugee Service who welcomed the extension of a relocation project for Malta.

“More than ever before, however, any solidarity that Malta asks other EU Member States to show needs to be matched by a firm commitment to uphold the human rights of asylum seekers and persons granted international protection here…

“Undoubtedly, a place like the Hal Far Hangar is not appropriate for accommodating beneficiaries of international protection, let alone families with children, as is the case at present.”

The turmoil in North Africa promoted an influx of 6,000 boat people to Lampedusa. As arrivals climbed to 28,000, both Italy and Malta asked the European Commission to invoke a 2001 EU Directive, called for other countries to share the burden by granting temporary protection to some of the refugees. The European Commission said the directive, invoked during the Kosovo war, was premature.

Italy responded by issuing the migrants with temporary resident permits, which saw a movement of a group of Tunisians further up into France.

But on 17 April, France temporarily blocked the train carrying the Tunisians over the border from Italy.

France’s threat to suspend its Schengen obligation to allow free movement of those with valid papers saw the Commission cede to the pressure by considering suspending the Schengen borders in ‘emergency situations’.

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Louise: you are correct when you defend the rights of young people who claim abuse by those in authority, on that issue 'I' and many others agree. But on the issue of migrants who end up in Malta, myself and many others disagree. With your intelligence, you could easily become part of the solution. It may be easier to snipe from the sidelines, but getting to grips with burden sharing, helping to put pressure where it really counts, and at the same time looking after the humanitarian needs of those who (at this time need it) is a far more complicated stance to take. Many of the people in the NGOs who you cast doubt on work tirelessly and for little if any reward (apart from abuse) to ease the plight of these people, and get them resettled in other countries. You could be part of these good people, use your strengths, not other peoples weaknesses. Respectfully
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Louise: You state things correctly when attempting to get justice for young people who
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And I thought that the JRS were expecting some real solidarity to come from the Vatican by maybe re -allocating some illegal immigrants there. In the meantime to prove that the Jesuit do not just do the talking, all immigrants living in hangars were expected to be housed at Mount St Joseph . Unfortunately I was wrong. Solidarity and Christian attitude is expected only by the local government and should be funded by the taxpayers money as usual. If the EU does not show real solidarity (ie obligatory burden sharing) then they really have no right to mess in our business. We're doing the best that we can and no one should expect better from this little country who lacks of the resources, the space and the will to become Europe's unofficial detention center.
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Malta faces a crisis with the arrival of over 1100 illegal immigrants in 3 days. And these NGOs, Aditus represented by Mr Neil Falzon and JRS represented by Fr Joe Cassar, can think of only one thing – adding on to Malta's burden. And when they see that some EU countries may, possibly, perhaps take on a little bit of our burden, Mr Falzon and Fr Cassar incite them to put more conditions on Malta. Good show!