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.
The above procedure is not enshrined in any law, and no formalities exist to ensure compliance. Legal guardians are generally the social workers engaged by AWAS, who are, therefore, not independent from public authorities. Moreover, in most cases they are responsible for a large number of children due to resource constraints. NGOs have expressed the need for additional human resources and the necessity to train staff, including guardians, about the specific needs of minor children from different cultural backgrounds regarding reception and care. The situation is of particular concern regarding traumatised children who have fled situations of war and violence.
In 2019, there were delays of several months in the issuance of the ‘Care Orders’, leading to delays in the appointment of a legal guardian. As unaccompanied children only get access to the asylum procedure after the issuance of a ‘Care Order’ and the appointment of a legal guardian, these children were de facto prevented from having access to the asylum procedure, often for several months.
Currently, the Head of AWAS is acting as the only legal guardian for all applicants, delegating his responsibility to social workers. At the end of 2019, 102 UAMs were under the care of AWAS.
According to NGOs assisting migrants, some unaccompanied minors, de facto detained in the closed section of the IRC, 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.
 Regulation 18 Procedural Regulations.
[3 Information provided by JRS Malta, aditus foundation, 2020.