As already mentioned, a new Minor Protection (Alternative Care) Act came into force in July 2021 replacing earlier legislation on the protection of children in need of care and support, including unaccompanied minors and/or separated children. The Act establishes the position of the Director (Protection of Minors) within the Foundation for Social Welfare Services, Malta’s welfare entity, who is responsible for protecting minors. It introduces the duty for all persons to report any minor who is at risk of suffering or being exposed to significant harm and establishes various forms of protection orders the Juvenile Court may impose, including care orders.
In relation to UAMs, the Act introduces a judicial procedure where the Director – altered to an UAM – files an application for the issuing of a care order. It is also the Court that appoints a legal guardian and a child advocate, in order to secure the child’s best interests. Age assessments may be requested by the Director as part of the Court application process. Being the Act’s first year of implementation, 2020 saw a number of practical challenges. The vast majority of minors did not have any legal guardian appointed to them, mainly due to shortcomings in the new judicial procedure. This resulted in minors having their asylum procedures put on hold, as well as the issuing of documentation attesting their status as asylum-seekers.
According to the Procedural Regulations, as soon as possible and no later than 30 days from the issue of the ‘Care Order’, unaccompanied minors shall be represented and assisted by a representative during all the phases of the asylum procedure. The assigned legal guardian is an AWAS staff member, usually a social worker, and the Regulations provide that he shall have the necessary knowledge of the special needs of minors.
The legal guardian shall inform the unaccompanied child about the meaning and consequences of the personal interview and prepare the child for the interview. Moreover, the representative attends the status determination interview and may ask questions during the procedure. In practice, although the legal guardian does attend the interview together with the child, information and advice regarding the asylum procedure is provided by NGOs upon referral by the children’s guardians.
According to NGOs assisting migrants, some unaccompanied minors, de facto detained, reported acts of violence including sexual violence perpetrated against them by other detainees. When informed and when space is available, AWAS tries to accommodate them in centres dedicated for vulnerable applicants such as Dar-il-Liedna or Balzan open centre. In 2020 a specific space for minors was created in Hal Far Tent Village.
 Regulation 18 Procedural Regulations.
 Information provided by JRS Malta, aditus foundation, 2020.