The provisions in the law regarding information to asylum seekers are Regulation 3(3) of the Declaration Regulations and Regulation 4(1) of the Procedural Regulations. The latter states that asylum seekers have to be informed, in a language that they understand, or they may reasonably be supposed to understand, of, among other things, the procedure to be followed and their rights and obligations during the procedure. It also states that asylum seekers have to be informed of the result of the decision in a language that they may reasonably be supposed to understand, when they are not assisted or represented by a legal adviser and when free legal assistance is not available. The amended provision also covers the information about the consequences of an explicit or implicit withdrawal of the application, and information on how to challenge a negative decision. This provision does not, however, state in which form such information has to be provided except for the decision that, by virtue of Regulation 14 of the Procedural Regulations, has to be provided in a written format. In practice, information is provided both by the Immigration Police and personnel working for the Refugee Commissioner. In the case of the Immigration Police, information on the rights and obligations of asylum seekers is provided almost immediately in the form of a booklet that is available in English, French, and Arabic.
In 2019 and 2020, information was no longer provided by the IPA to detained applicants, i.e. all applicants who entered Malta irregularly. The only information provided to applicants in detention was delivered by UNHCR Malta, which visits detention centres regularly, and by NGOs on a case-by-case basis. When applicants are registered and interviewed by EASO operating on behalf of the IPA, they do receive information about the asylum procedure and are given a leaflet. However, this appointment usually happens months after their arrival.
Consequently, most applicants detained upon arrival were not informed about the ground for their detention, nor about their rights as asylum-seekers. Some applicants were detained under the Health Regulation and the very basic document provided to them does not mention any kind of information and is generally not provided in a language the applicant can understand. The vast majority was de facto detained without being provided with any document and thus did not receive any information for months.
It is worth noting that the EASO operating plan with Malta for 2020 foresaw the development of information material “covering the various procedural steps with simple and clear content, appropriate for the age and level of understanding of the applicants, in a language that the applicant is reasonably supposed to understand and using appropriate dissemination tools”.
Moreover, both NGOs and UNHCR were denied access to detention for several months in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving hundreds of asylum-seekers with no information or assistance.
Information provided to persons who are not detained is also a concern as the asylum system is not structured for asylum seekers arriving regularly and, therefore, those who are not taken to the IRC within a controlled environment. There is no systematic and structured way to provide comprehensive information to asylum seekers outside detention. They only receive basic information about the asylum procedure but not about their rights regarding reception. For example, they do not have access to information about access to healthcare or education, while asylum seekers in detention see their basic needs covered.
Alternative sources of information are available in practice mostly through NGOs and UNHCR. For instance, staff of the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Malta visit the IRC after each boat arrival to provide an information session on the asylum procedure as well as on the rights and obligations pertaining to such procedures. JRS Malta is also available to provide information sessions to asylum seekers who are not kept in detention. However, that is only possible if the asylum seekers concerned come to the attention of the said organisation.
Information on the Dublin procedure
With respect to the Dublin Regulation, some information is provided to asylum seekers with a document that is given to each person by the Immigration authorities upon their arrival. The information is contained in a few short paragraphs and is written in English. It does not include information on the consequences of continuing to travel to another EU Member State or absconding from a transfer. As a result, the information provided cannot be considered sufficient for asylum seekers to fully understand the way in which the Dublin system functions as well as its consequences. According to legal practitioners operating in the field, it appears that Dublin-related information leaflets for adults and unaccompanied children, as included in Annexes X and XI of the Commission Implementing Regulation No 118/2014, are not distributed to asylum seekers.
 See Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) No 118/2014 amending Regulation (EC) No 1560/2003 laying down detailed rules for the application of Council Regulation (EC) No 343/2003 establishing the criteria and mechanisms for determining the Member State responsible for examining an asylum application lodged in one of the Member States by a third-country national, OJ 2014 L 39/1.