Irregular Immigration In Malta And The Impacts Thereof On The Maltese Community

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  • 1. Irregular Immigration in Malta andthe Impacts thereof on the MalteseCommunityJune 2007 Christa Campbell Nadim Carr Charlotte Forrester Álvaro Mingo Martín
  • 2. 2
  • 3. CONTENTS Page1. INTRODUCTION........................................................................................................................ 12. BACKGROUND .......................................................................................................................... 23. AIMS AND OBJECTIVES ......................................................................................................... 3 3.1 Aims .......................................................................................................................................... 3 3.2 Objectives .................................................................................................................................. 34. METHODOLOGY....................................................................................................................... 45. RESULTS AND DISCUSSION .................................................................................................. 4 5.1 Ministry of Justice and Home Affairs ....................................................................................... 4 5.2 Herman Grech – Journalist........................................................................................................ 5 5.3 Simon Busuttil – MEP............................................................................................................... 6 5.4 Marsa Open Centre.................................................................................................................... 76. CONCLUSION............................................................................................................................. 9ANNEXURE 1: MINISTRY OF JUSTICE AND HOME AFFAIRS: QUESTIONS ANDANSWERS ................................................................................................................................................ 11ANNEXURE 2: TUNA BOAT INCIDENT............................................................................................ 18ANNEXURE 3: LOCATIONS OF MIGRANT INCIDENTS.............................................................. 20ANNEXURE 4: THE MARSA OPEN CENTRE .................................................................................. 22REFERENCES ......................................................................................................................................... 25
  • 4. IRREGULAR IMMIGRATION IN MALTA AND THE IMPACTS THEREOFON THE MALTESE COMMUNITY1. INTRODUCTIONIn recent years, substantial numbers of people have migrated – or sought to migrate – tomore prosperous and stable parts of the world. By the year 2002, the United Nationsestimated that about 180 million persons – or roughly 3 per cent of the world’spopulation – were living in a country where they were not born. In developedcountries, every tenth person is a migrant, while in developing countries, one in seventypersons has this status (International Migration, 2002; The Economist, 2002a as citedby Borjas, 2005). Such population flows, involving increasingly dangerous long-distance journeys, have been prompted by factors such as a growing disparity in thelevel of human security to be found in different parts of the world, improvedtransportation, communications and information technology systems, the increasedflows of knowledge and the expansion of transnational social networks. In addition,poverty, environmental degradation, political instability and human rights abusesclearly fuel the “push factors” for migration from some regions of the world (Borjas,2005).International migration is not a problem in itself. Mobility of labour may in somecircumstances be beneficial for the economies of both the source and destinationcountries. In different countries, the impact of migration will vary depending on theproportion of the total population. For instance, even if asylum seekers accounted for asignificant share of international migrants in the UK, they are unlikely to havesignificant demographic, labour market or other generalised impact on the society as awhole. Yet migration may become a problem where there is a mismatch between thepush factors in source countries and the policies of destination countries. This seems tobe increasingly the case in our times. Population movements have been a cause forgrowing concern in the industrialised states. Such states are ready to acknowledge thepositive value of international migration when it meets the needs of their labour market, 1
  • 5. and when it takes place in a controlled and predictable manner. But when it involvesthe irregular arrival of people from other parts of the world, and when those migrantsappear to bring little financial or social capital with them, the countries react with alarm(Borjas, 2005).2. BACKGROUNDMalta is the southernmost border of the European Union and is on the route of boatpeople leaving North Africa to reach mainland Europe (Texeire, 2006). Under theDublin II Convention, individuals are forced to claim asylum in the first EU countrythey reach. Since becoming an EU member on 1 May 2004, Malta has reported anincreasing problem with immigration from North Africa (BBC, 2007). Since 2002,Malta has had 8,000 irregular immigrants reach their shores. Relative to theirpopulation size, this figure equates to almost 1.2 million people arriving in the UnitedKingdom or, put differently, the arrival of one illegal immigrant in Malta is pro rataequivalent to the arrival of 150 immigrants in the United Kingdom (The Ministry for theFamily and Social Solidarity, 2005).In Malta immigrants are referred to as “irregular” immigrants and not “illegal”immigrants because the act of illegal immigration has been decriminalised (Texeire,2006). Malta basically encounters three types of irregular immigrants. There are thosewho enter the country legally but remain beyond their authorised stay, there are otherswho arrive in Malta without proper documentation and others who arrive in an irregularmanner either voluntarily or after finding themselves in distress at sea and are saved bythe Maltese coast guard authorities (The Ministry for the Family and Social Solidarity,2005). As soon as irregular immigrants reach the coast, they are taken to one of thefour detention centres that were established in Malta on 4 March 2002 (Texeire, 2006).Most of these irregular immigrants, with the exception of those who are still minors,pregnant women and those who have some form of disability or condition are kept inthese detention in terms of the Immigration Act until such time as their request forrefugee status is determined (The Ministry for the Family and Social Solidarity, 2005). 2
  • 6. In its report for 2007, Amnesty International blasted Malta’s ongoing automaticdetention policy labelling it as a “clear violation of international human rights laws andstandards” (The Malta Independent Online, 2006). Once irregular immigrants arereleased from detention centres, open centres become their ordinary residence until suchtime as these immigrants find alternative accommodation, proceed to a third country orreturn to their country of origin (The Ministry for the Family and Social Solidarity,2005).Most of the irregular immigrants tend to see Malta only as a transit country. Yet theyare unable to move on due to the regulations for asylum seekers laid down in the Dublinconvention. Only a few are granted refugee status, despite the huge numbers fallingunder humanitarian status.3. AIMS AND OBJECTIVES3.1 AimsOur aims were to explore issues of irregular immigration and the attitude of and impacton parties involved i.e. the immigrants themselves, Maltese citizens and thegovernment.3.2 Objectives• Investigate the policies of the Maltese government.• Determine the assistance being offered by the EU.• Determine the attitude of Maltese citizens towards the irregular immigrants.• Investigate how immigrants have adapted to life in Malta.• Describe an Open Centre. 3
  • 7. 4. METHODOLOGY4.1 While migrants are in detention, they fall under the authority of the Minister of Justice and Home Affairs. We arranged an interview with them on Friday, 8 June and spoke to Ilaria Flores Martin, the Projects Officer – EU Affairs Directorate and her colleague Martha Delicata.4.2 The way in which the media reports on irregular immigration has wide-ranging effects. We arranged a meeting with a journalist from The Times, Herman Grech, on Friday, 8 June who was also able to provide us with the details of a contact person at the Marsa Open Centre.4.3 We attended a meeting on Friday, 8 June with Simon Busuttil, a member of the European Parliament’s Justice and Home Affairs Committee who is an advocate of burden sharing.4.4 We visited the Marsa Open Centre on Saturday, 9 June. The visit was divided into two parts (i) speaking to Warsane Ali Garare, the co-ordinator of the Marsa Open Centre who is originally from Somalia and (ii) observing the day-to-day activities in the open centre, the conditions in which they live and interviewing several of the individuals who live there.5. RESULTS AND DISCUSSION5.1 Ministry of Justice and Home AffairsOur first meeting was with the Ministry of Justice and Home Affairs. They would notallow us to use a tape recorder. They started off the meeting by asking us if our paperwas going to be published and once they established that it was not, they seemed to loseinterest. We covered several issues including the role of the EU, the profile of theirregular immigrants (e.g. age, skills, education), the economic impact of the 4
  • 8. immigrants on Malta and the Dublin Convention. Annexure 1 on page 11 sets out allthe questions we put to them and how they responded. Their replies were very broadand several of the questions they refused to answer. For instance, when asked aboutburden sharing, they told us that certain of their EU partners had agreed to take on someof the irregular immigrants but they did not want to disclose who the countries were.Several times during the interview when we asked something they construed assensitive they conferred in Maltese as to how they should respond. This was not a verysuccessful interview as they did not impart much useful information and we left therefeeling a bit discouraged.5.2 Herman Grech – JournalistOur second interview was with Herman Grech, a journalist with The Times. He wasvery helpful and we covered various issues with him. He informed us that migrantseason was between April and October because of the better weather and that many ofthe irregular immigrants were so desperate they did not think about the risks involved.When asked about professional smugglers he said there was very little information onthat. He advised that the irregular immigrants were from Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea andSomalia despite many of them stating they were from Libya. He said many of themwere educated people who caused very little trouble when they were out. He said thatthe Maltese government did not do anything to promote tolerance although he hadpositive things to say about Malta’s prime minister. He also believes that Malta has an“island mentality" and that there was a big problem with racism and xenophobia on theisland. He said not even the church was saying enough about this issue. He informedus that a new political party against irregular immigration was being started and that itwould be announced the following day. We mentioned that we had seen the Ministry ofJustice and Home Affairs that morning who had told us that we could not go to the opencentre in Marsa. He stated that this was incorrect and gave us the contact details ofsomeone who worked at the open centre. When asked about burden sharing he said thatdifferent countries had taken a small number of immigrants including Germany,Lithuania, Czech Republic and the Netherlands. He also believes the EU is not doing 5
  • 9. enough to assist Malta with this problem and that a burden sharing concept should becreated. Italy used to offer their assistance but now only offer air assistance. Whenasked about the Dublin Convention he said the government wanted to change it. Hementioned that journalists were not allowed access to the detention centres and thegovernment’s justification for this was that the residents would rebel. He saidpolitically the same xenophobic stories were being printed each year as nothing ischanging. We asked him what the solution is he said “there is no solution”.5.3 Simon Busuttil – MEPOur third meeting was with Simon Busuttil who believes that burden-sharing onimmigration requires more solidarity on the part of EU Member States to help carry thedisproportionate burden that is currently being shouldered by southern countries such asMalta. He said that the problem does not belong to just Malta and that it should beshared among the European states as it is a common problem and therefore there shouldbe a common solution. He is concerned at the reluctance on the part of other membersto shoulder responsibility who he thinks have only been playing lip service to burdensharing. He spoke about the three incidents which had taken place outside of Malta’swaters recently and which had sparked a wave of bad publicity for Malta, particularlythe tuna boat incident that left 27 immigrants hanging on a tuna net platform for threedays (see Annexure 2 on page 13). He believed that Malta had been unfairlyrepresented in the press because in all three cases these boats had been outside themassive 250,000 square metre area that falls under Malta’s responsibility (seeAnnexure 3 on page 14). Mr Busuttil commented on the hypocrisy of the Italian MPwho had said something along the lines that Malta needed a lesson in human rights,comments Mr Busuttil viewed as “shameful”. According to Mr Busuttil, if they thinkthis is a human problem they should be doing something to help. He said that untilcountries recognise that this is their problem they are not going to help. He said theonly good thing that had come from all of this was that awareness had shot up since ithappened. He believes the Dublin Convention should be changed but did acknowledgethat Malta had joined the EU after the Dublin Convention had been adopted. He 6
  • 10. mentioned that a review of the Dublin Convention was being launched this weekpushing for dual proportionality. He also mentioned that Malta’s lack of hinterland wasa problem. Other issues mentioned was the Schengen agreement, in Malta’s case set toimplement on 31 December 2007, when the burden should be less on Malta asimmigrants will be able to move more freely in Europe. He also spoke aboutFRONTEX, an independent body, who is responsible for coordinating the operationalcooperation between member states in the field of border security. Despite being asupporter, he was critical about them because patrols in the Mediterranean have still notstarted. He believed that if FRONTEX had been operating the recent incidents wouldprobably not have happened.5.4 Marsa Open CentreWe visited the Marsa Open Centre on Saturday, 9 June. The majority of immigrants arefrom war-torn countries i.e. Somalia, Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Congo and Ivory Coast.According to Mr Garare, the immigrants do not know the risks they are taking whenthey decide to leave Africa and most of them end up regretting it. He said that strongbonds are formed between the immigrants and they become like family, forming asupport system for each other. Most of them travel alone but make friends with otherson the boats. When asked how many people lived in the open centre Mr Garare repliedthat officially there were 550 people but in fact the figure was closer to 600. Of those,only four individuals are refugees. The centre was only for men over 18. According toMr Garare, most of them are highly skilled and educated as they have doctors, lawyers,economists and engineers in the open centre. He said the open centre was like a townfor the immigrants and that daily life was a struggle for them. When asked if theimmigrants were employed Mr Garare replied that they did get work but none of it wason a permanent basis. They sit outside the centre in the morning to wait for people tocome by and pick them up to do either construction or cleaning work. The work wasnot paid very well. 7
  • 11. Each resident received money from the government for food and the amount received isdependent on their status. There are three categories:• residents who qualify for humanitarian aid receive Lm2.00 per day;• residents whose applications for humanitarian status have been rejected receive Lm1.50 per day; and• residents who get caught trying to get into another European country and are deported back to the open centre receive Lm1.25 per day.Residents may move out of the open centre should they wish to do so but most do notleave as they struggle to find work. If they do move out, they are not entitled to returnto the open centre. When asked about their health and health care, Mr Garare said thatofficially people are entitled to health care but that treatment has been refused in thepast and the open centre had to make a complaint. They are trying to set up a temporaryclinic in the centre. Mr Garare spoke about the psychological damage suffered by theimmigrants in the detention centres who are forced to stay there for up to 18 months.The official reason for detaining them for so long is to protect the public. When askedhow they treated the individuals with psychological problems he advised that traditionalmethods are used to deal with this. The strong bonds between them means they arevery supportive of each other.When asked if local people ever visit the open centre or if any are interested in findingout about the immigrants, he replied that although the open centre tries to encouragethis they are finding it very difficult to change the mindset of the Maltese people. Hesaid that immigrants have been portrayed as dangerous and disease-ridden and stories inthe press showing policemen in masks have created a false image of the immigrants.There were arson attacks at the centre in 2006 but these are not happening anymore.There are local people who do help out at the centre but it is always the same people.When asked what he thought about burden sharing, Mr Garare said it was the “bestidea”. 8
  • 12. We then proceeded to look around the open centre. We were invited to join residentsfor a drink by Nor Ahmed Hassan from Somalia, the unofficial manager of the opencentre, who speaks seven languages and has a biology degree. We were then given aguided tour around the premises by Mr Hassan and found that the residents have createdtheir own “village” consisting of restaurants (several with televisions), an internet café,a chapel and a language school. He was very helpful as he encouraged people to speakto us and tell us about their situation. Many people were very open and wanted to talkto us. Each member of the group spoke to several residents as there were many peoplethere who could speak English although we were told the majority could not. We askedthe people what their profession was but did not meet any doctors, lawyers etc. and wedid wonder why that was. We went into two Eritrean restaurants and a Somalianrestaurant and each one we went to offered us food. Alvaro spoke to someone whomentioned bad working conditions and how they are paid less than the Maltese.Another resident told Nadim that some of the rooms were overcrowded with up to 40people in a room with only one bathroom. Sometimes two people had to share a bed.We did not look inside the dorms because Mr Garare had specifically asked us not to.Mr Hassan offered to show us the dorms three times but we declined the offer and toldhim we were not allowed to. One of the residents of the open centre though Charlottewas from the government or an NGO and he told her many officials and representativessaid they were going to help them so wanted to know why he should trust her.Charlotte tried to explain she was not from any organisation so she asked Nor to explainto him that we were not there in any official capacity. Although all members of ourgroup agreed that conditions were not as bad as they had expected, life is still a strugglefor the people who live in the open centre as they do not want to be there.6. CONCLUSIONIs there a solution to the problem of irregular immigration in Malta? Amending theDublin Convention which has been criticised for being unfair, inefficient, resource-intensive and an obstacle to genuine sharing of responsibility between member statescould be part of the solution. The logical outcome of linking responsibility for an 9
  • 13. asylum claim to border control is to create unequal burdens, and works as a disincentivefor states to give full access to fair asylum procedures (ECRE, 2006). Secondly,collective action is needed. According to Mr Busuttil, resettlement is one of the toolsavailable to truly share the burden and that the European Commission should be doingmore to facilitate burden sharing by helping host countries deal with resettlement.Thirdly, stereotyping of irregular immigrants is threatening any public support for theasylum system. Portraying them as dangerous and disease-ridden not only stigmatisesthe irregular immigrants but in practice also those refugees already in the country(Borjas, 2005). The Maltese government should therefore be promoting a sense oftolerance, understanding and respect among their citizens toward irregular immigrants.Finally, Simon Busuttil summed it up by saying that until deeper issues in Africancountries are sorted out, no amount of populist talk can wish irregular immigrationaway (MaltaMedia, 2007). 10
  • 14. Annexure 1: Ministry of Justice and Home Affairs: questions and answers1. Did you have a problem with irregular immigration before you joined the EU? Put differently, approximately how many people applied for refugee status for the 5-year period prior to Malta enacting the Refugees Act in 2000? Yes, but it has become more of a problem since joining the EU.2. How many people have been recognised as refugees after the enactment? Since 2002, there have been 4780 asylum seekers and only 192 were given refugee status.3. Were irregular immigration problems anticipated once Malta decided to become part of the EU? It was not seen as an issue. They did not expect the arrival of so many irregular immigrants.4. Where do the migrants come from? Egypt, Eritrea, Somalia, Morocco, Sudan.5. Where are they trying to get to (i.e. was the intended destination Malta or are they hoping to reach another European country)? Europe in general.6. What is the demographic profile of such migrants (including age distribution and family structure of migrants)? 11
  • 15. Mainly single men. Not many women and children. The vulnerable groups went to detention centres for medical checks and were then sent to reception centres.7. To what extent does asylum migration involve the departure of skilled and educated people from countries of origin? They had no data. “No statistics to tell skill levels”. [We think that perhaps they tried to avoid this question as they were reluctant to answer it.]8. What does this data tell us about the causes of and motivation for asylum migration? [Did not ask in light of the response above].9. What has been the economic impact of migration on Malta? There has been a limited impact. Reception costs are given by the EU. Since the migrants are only employed in the lower skilled jobs, they do not really have a major impact on the economy.10. What has been the public policy response? For example, how has regional bodies, international and non-governmental organisations responded to the phenomenon of migration? There has been a mixed response. NGO’s do not tend to agree with all the Ministry’s policies.11. To what extent is there a consensus among these actors with regard to policy responses? 12
  • 16. They agree on basic humanitarian issues.12. The EU has tried to devise a common immigration policy and a possible common asylum system because of lax immigration laws and small penalties for illegal immigrants in certain EU countries (e.g. Spain and Italy). Do you welcome a common immigration policy? A common immigration policy is still being discussed but it would be good for everyone in the EU.13. We would like to ask a question in three parts. a. What is the EU doing to help you? For example, obviously you need human and financial resources as well as training to deal with this. Did you receive funding from the EU for setting up procedures to deal with irregular immigration and for the training of staff? They assist with sea patrols and with funding. b. Do you think the EU is doing enough to assist you? More funding would be welcomed but realised that other EU countries also need assistance. New funding programs are being offered. c. What would you like the EU to do? Provide more funding. 13
  • 17. 14. Have any of your EU partners agreed to take in any irregular immigrants that have been granted asylum or protected status in Malta? EU Partners have agreed to take on irregular immigrants but they did not want to divulge who those countries were. They said this was done to show “solidarity among member states”. [We then asked if their EU partners took them on because they needed the labour.] The EU Partners took them on to show solidarity.15. What part do you think the EU and Malta should play in addressing the causes of irregular migration (i.e. poverty, human rights violations, armed conflict and so on) and do you think they have addressed this with their foreign and aid policies? They welcomed any ideas from the EU on how to improve the poverty situation in other countries.16. At the African-EU summit African countries pressed for a specific migration fund. Has the feasibility of this been considered by Malta or the EU? Funding is always welcome but they have to consider the funding policies as there are rules that come with them.17. In 2003, Britain, France, Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain established two joint naval patrols – one of which was in the Mediterranean. The task of the patrols is to intercept vessels that are assumed to be carrying illegal immigrants and take them to the nearest harbour. Do you think Malta has benefited from this? It acted as a deterrent but they had no data relating to this. 14
  • 18. 18. Is a Mediterranean Coastal Patrol Network to police Europe’s frontline in the area just outside Libya’s territorial waters going to be established? This is still being discussed. It is too early to say.19. What happens after an irregular immigrant has been deemed ineligible for refugee status? They try to repatriate them. It can take up to 18 months. The irregular immigrants are taken from the detention centres to open centres. Individuals who have been in the detention centre longer than 18 months are put in the open centres even if they eventually not given refugee status.20. Do the countries known to serve as points of origin or points of departure co- operate when irregular immigrants are repatriated? Malta does liaise with foreign offices. They have problematic relationships with source countries. The countries of origin tend to view this as not their problem. Malta considers this to be one of the greatest problems.21. Illegal immigrants often need the assistance of professional smugglers to take them into a country. To what extent does organised crime play a part in the irregular immigration to Malta? They do not have any control over these people. No systems are in place to try and catch the smugglers.22. Do you think the EU has used the legislation (i.e. the Dublin Convention) to create a filter or a buffer zone between them and the countries where irregular immigrants come from? 15
  • 19. They said they could not answer this question.23. According to a UN estimate, the EU countries alone need 1.6 million immigrants annually if they want to maintain, by 2050, their labour force at the current absolute level. Do you think the restrictive policies of the EU discourage the immigrants from pursuing legal channels to gain entry into an EU country? They avoided the question.24. Do you think the EU could reduce irregular immigration by setting up agencies in the countries where irregular immigrants originate from and recruiting the people they need from there or perhaps even educating them about the dangers and pitfalls of choosing the illegal route? In an ideal world as it is an idealistic notion but in theory it would not be easy to do. It would be unrealistic as all countries would have to agree to do that.25. Are irregular immigrants in Malta abusing the asylum process? No. All irregular immigrants have the right to apply and most do apply. Irregular immigrants are given legal aid and the right to appeal.26. Malta’s referendum on EU accession yielded only 53.6% yes votes. Do you think the outcome would have been different if Maltese citizens had known about the problems that would arise relating to irregular immigration? They could not comment on this.27. How does the Maltese government promote a sense of tolerance, understanding and respect among their citizens towards irregular immigrants? 16
  • 20. They are against racism and xenophobia and are working on increasing awareness through education. They put more effort in the actual reception of immigrants than concentrating on this.28. What do you say to those such as Mr Philip Beattie from the ANR who harbours a growing concern for the future of Malta’s Christian, Maltese and European heritage? They would not answer this question. They did say that the Maltese government does promote tolerance and understanding and went on to say that there is a lot of tolerance and understanding.29. May we visit an open centre and speak to the residents? This falls under the authority of the Ministry for the Family and Social Solidarity and we would have to ask them.30. Do you have any other information for us? No. 17
  • 21. Annexure 2: Tuna boat incident(Source: The Independent, 2007) 18
  • 22. 19
  • 23. Annexure 3: Locations of migrant incidents(Source: The Times, 2007) 20
  • 24. 21
  • 25. Annexure 4: The Marsa Open CentrePlate 1: View of the open centre from the roadPlate 2: Entrance to the open centre 22
  • 26. Plate 3: Barber shopPlate 4: Cafetaria 23
  • 27. Plate 5: Language SchoolPlate 6: Internet café 24
  • 28. ReferencesBBC News (2007) Country profile: Malta. [Online]. Available athttp://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/country_profiles/1045691.stm [Accessed11 April 2007]Borjas, G.J. et al (2005) Poverty, International Migration and Asylum. Basingstoke,Palgrave MacMillanCamilleri, I. (2007) Map pinpoints locations of migrant incidents. The Times,8 June 2007, 15European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) (2006). EU “Dublin rules onasylum claims cause misery and put refugees at risk”. [Online]. Available athttp://www.ecre.org/files/ECRE%20press%20release%20Dublin%20II%20report%20-%20final1.pdf [Accessed 12 June 2007]Grech, H. (2007) Malta “too tough” on migrants, says human rights chief. The Times,4 June 2007, 7The Malta Independent Online (2006). Amnesty International blasts Malta’s detentionpolicy. [Online]. Available athttp://www.independent.com.mt/news.asp?newsitemid=51494 [Accessed June 2007]MaltaMedia (2007). MEP calls for more solidarity in burden sharing. [Online].Available at http://www.maltamedia.com/artman2/publish/eu/article_843.shtml[Accessed 31 May 2007]Ministry for the Family and Social Solidarity (2005) Irregular Immigrants, Refugeesand Integration Policy Document 25
  • 29. http://www.mjha.gov.mt/downloads/documents/paper_immigrants.pdf (Accessed 26April 2007)Texeire, F. (2006) At the Gate of Fortress Europe: Irregular Immigration and Malta.France, Institute for Political Studies of Rennes 26