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Asylum seekers, Malta

Albertina d'Urso | Malta

A group of 106 migrants from Somalia arrives to Malta. During the journey from Libya something went wrong with the dinghy in which they were crammed and they were rescued by the Armed Forces of Malta. Now they will go trough the process that happens to everyone who comes to Malta in this way: identification by the police, request for asylum (Somalis are almost always recognized for international protection), one year imprisonment, access to open centers and then either a future in Malta or the attempt to move to another nation of the European Union. Behind them Captain Etienne Scicluna, who was in command of the operation.

Malta is too small to assimilate them and, after all, they did not even want to come here. Most of them never heard of it until they came across it during their journey to a promised and unknown land named Europe.

They are the thousands of refugees arriving from Sub-Saharan Africa. Their stories are all similar: for the most part, they come from Somalia, but also from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan, Congo… countries where war and inhumane living conditions force them to flee in search of a better life. After a long and exhausting journey, they arrive in Libya, where they are usually imprisoned for months. From there, they are crammed onto makeshift boats and try to reach what for them is "salvation".

They usually arrive in Malta by chance; they are heading for Italy but something goes wrong. Once on dry land, they ask for asylum, but they then face up to 12 months in detention...

 According to Fabrizio Ellul of UNHCR (the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), even if integration is still something of a pipe dream (in fact according to a survey, more than 50% of Maltese people believe that there are too many migrants and more than 40% said that they have never spoken to any of them), the phenomenon is not yet an emergency: "Since 2002, almost 20,000 have arrived in Malta, but only about 3000 of these have remained on the island. 78% received international protection and then a passport that allows them to travel with a three-month visa to any other country in the European Union; few of them, however, will return. It is said that on arrival in Malta, their fingerprints are taken badly on purpose… so when their visas expire, that is assuming they are ever found, it is impossible to go back to their country of entry."

However, the Maltese Prime Minister, Joseph Muscat, does not seem to be in agreement. In fact, he has just informed the European Union that if other member countries do not help Malta, his government will ignore conventions and adopt a policy of refused entry. He has kept to his word on this matter, threatening to return 102 Somali migrants to Libya.

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