The authority responsible for registering asylum applications in Malta is the former Office of the Refugee Commissioner (RefCom) now known as the International Protection Agency. The IPA is also the authority responsible for taking decisions at first instance on asylum applications (see: Number of staff and nature of the determining authority).
The law no longer provides for time limits for an asylum seeker to apply for international protection and it also specifies that the Commissioner shall ensure that applications are neither rejected nor excluded from examination on the sole ground that they have not been made as soon as possible.
Since 2019, the registration process by RefCom was severely affected due to an increase in new arrivals and the vast majority of applicants for international protection being detained upon arrival. This created major delays whilst asylum-seekers remained detained in the IRC or Safi barracks for up to several weeks or months pending the registration of their applications. The situation further deteriorated in 2020 due to the systematic detention of all asylum-seekers arriving irregularly in Malta. Furthermore, the IPA remained closed for several weeks from 12 March 2020 to 25 May 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
EASO has been providing support to the IPA (previously RefCom) since 2019. On 11 December 2020, a new operation plan was signed with Malta for the year 2021 (see Number of staff and nature of the determining authority). In 2020, 2,419 individuals applied for international protection in Malta. EASO registered at total of 2,187 applicants for international protection, mainly from Sudan, Bangladesh and Eritrea. This indicates that EASO plays a crucial role in registering the large majority of applicants in Malta and is due to the fact that most applicants are detained upon arrival, i.e. registration mainly takes place in detention centres where only EASO is operating under the supervision of the IPA.
Detained asylum-seekers are registered in the detention facility by staff deployed by EASO. No data is publicly available, but practice shows that registration takes place months after arrival and, before that, migrants are kept detained and receive no information.
Asylum-seekers who arrived regularly and who expressed a wish to apply for protection when the IPA was closed due to Covid-19 were requested to send an email indicating basic information (name, surname, date of birth, arrival in Malta, nationality, family situation, address in Malta). They were later contacted and given an appointment to formally register their application. In the meantime, confirmation by the IPA by email could be used as a proof of an asylum-seeker status.
For the registration and lodging phases, support is given through the deployment of experts. In particular, IPA is supported by EASO to register applicants within the premises of the detention centre at Safi barracks. EASO also assists IPA with the implementation of ad hoc relocation through the matching process and it appears that asylum-seekers to be relocated are prioritised for registration.
With respect to asylum seekers who arrive documented but who do not express a wish to apply for asylum to the immigration officials present or who become refugees sur place, problems may arise as a result of the fact that they could not readily know how or where to apply for asylum.
Applications must be made at the IPA premises. Any person approaching any other public entity, particularly the Malta Police Force, expressing his or her wish to seek asylum, will be referred to the IPA.
Unaccompanied children need legal guardians to submit an asylum application. The 2020 Minor Protection (Alternative Care) Act replaced earlier legislation on the protection of children in need of care and support, including unaccompanied and/or separated children. It introduced a judicial procedure where the Court is now in charge of appointing a legal guardian and a child advocate.
So far, being the Act’s first year of implementation, 2020 saw a number of challenges and the vast majority of minors were not appointed legal guardians. This results in minors having their asylum procedure put on hold for months.
No data was provided for the whole year, but as of 31 October 2020, 1,350 persons were awaiting the registration of their asylum application.
 Article 4(3) International Protection Act.
Regulation 8(1) Procedural Regulations.
 Information provided by EASO, 26 February 2021.
 Information provided by the IPA, June 2020.