[WATCH] Children born to 'rejected' migrant parents not our remit, Refugee Commissioner insists

Xtra's discusses refugee protection with Commissioner for Refugees Martine Cassar

Refugee Commissioner Martine Cassar said her office could not presume to tell the government what to do
Refugee Commissioner Martine Cassar said her office could not presume to tell the government what to do

Children born in Malta to migrant parents with ‘rejected status’ – whose applications for asylum, refugee status or subsidiary protection had already been rejected – would also be given a rejected status by the Refugee Commission, if they applied, according to Refugee Commissioner Martine Cassar.

The 33-year-old, who was one of the guests of Saviour Balzan on TVM’s current-affairs programme Xtra on Thursday, would not comment as to whether these children ought to be offered protection by the state, as this – she said – was not the remit of her office.

“The commission is tasked solely with dealing with individuals coming from other countries,” she said. “Children born in Malta do not fall under my office’s remit, although – if they applied for status – they would automatically be issued the highest status of their parents.”

So children born in Malta to parents whose status had been rejected would also be issued the same status.

“The home affairs minister, Carmelo Abela, has made it clear in statements to the media that the interests and rights of these children would be safeguarded,” Cassar said.

In the case of the 35 Mali residents who had been arrested by the police in December and were slated for repatriation to their home country, Cassar confirmed that one of them was released within a day after the commission had informed the police that it had awarded protection status to the man.

“I cannot presume to tell the government what it should do in these cases, when the European Union has already laid out clear legislation that member states have to follow,” she said.

Cassar also said that so-called economic refugees could not never be granted refugee status in Malta since the law stated that this can only be granted in cases of fear of persecution in the individual’s home country.

Refugee status, she said, can only be granted in cases of fear of persecution on basis of race, religion, nationality, political belief or social group.

Economic refugees normally fall under the second-highest level of protection available – subsidiary protection – which is awarded to individuals fleeing their home country for economic reasons and for those coming from specific countries, like Syria and Libya.

A third tier of protection, temporary humanitarian protection (THP) is given on the basis of the individual applicant’s situation in the past 12 months, including medical treatment. It is also issued in the case of unaccompanied migrant children.

Cassar said that a fourth category of status - Temporary Humanitarian Protection-new (THPn) – is issued in cases of individuals who cannot be given any of the other three – superior – protection statuses, but who the commission believes should be offered some temporary protection nevertheless.

She said that the lack of migrant ‘boat arrivals’ last year meant that a large percentage of asylum requests the commission had received in 2016 were from individuals who arrived in Malta through legal channels or with a visa.
Most of these applicants arrived in Malta from Libya and Syria, she said.

Malta presidency of the Council of the EU

Earlier in the programme, parliamentary secretary for the EU presidency Ian Borg said that Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, in his speech during the inauguration ceremony of Malta’s six-month presidency, had made it clear that the EU needed to understand what the people were feeling and going through on a day to day basis.

But he had also made it clear the EU should also lead and educate on certain issues, like the need to tackle xenophobia and to counter the rise of populism and extreme nationalism, Borg said.

He said that Malta would make it clear to the EU that the issue of migration needed to be taken seriously by all the member states and not simply a small number of countries on the frontline in the path of irregular immigration into Europe.

Nationalist MP Karl Gouder said it was to be hoped that the EU have the courage to speak plainly about problems like immigration but also the courage to seek the right answers.

He said that many European citizens felt that the EU was detached from reality and that the politicians were not addressing issues that mattered.

Parliamentary Secretary Ian Borg
Parliamentary Secretary Ian Borg

Borg said he was sure the public recognised to what extent the European Union had impacted their lives in the past 13 years.

Malta’s presidency of the Council of the European Union would be guiding discussions on various issues that affected the man on the street, including the elimination of roaming charges, the EU’s budget allocations for after 2020, and irregular immigration.

As to opposition leader Simon Busuttil’s statement in front of the College of the European Commissioners in Parliament on Wednesday – in which he said the Maltese were disappointed that the Commission had not taken a position on the fact that a Maltese minister and the Prime Minister’s chief of staff were discovered to have opened secret accounts in Panama – Borg said that from what he heard, people were baffled by the hysterics displayed by the opposition leader.

Nationalist MP Karl Gouder
Nationalist MP Karl Gouder

“The PN is hoping it will manage to confuse people,” he said. “Like your cook did earlier to prepare my favourite dish, the PN is mixing ingredients, but – in their case – they have no idea what they want the end result to be.”

Gouder insisted Busuttil had echoed the sentiment of many Maltese who could not understand how the commission could remain silent in the case of corruption.

More in Xtra