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.
The information is delivered using different means and includes an explanation of the purpose of the session by the personnel (with the help of an interpreter), an audio-visual presentation available in the most common 11 languages of the asylum population i.e. Amharic, Tigrinya, Arabic, English, Djoula, French, Hawsa, Oromo, Russian, Somali and Swahili; further languages to be added, according to the exigencies of the applicants. A booklet that contains a transcript of the audio-visual presentation is also available in the said eleven different languages; this is not available online. The same type of information session is provided to asylum seekers who are not in detention but who apply directly at the Refugee Commissioner’s office.
However, information provided to persons not detained remains a concern as the asylum system is not structured for asylum seekers arriving regularly and therefore not taken at the IRC within a controlled environment. There is no systematic and structured way to provide comprehensive information to asylum seekers outside detention. They receive only 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 procedures as well as on the rights and obligations pertaining to such procedures. Previously provided booklets were not available in 2018. JRS Malta is also available to provide information sessions to asylum seekers who are not kept in detention. However, such is only possible if the asylum seekers concerned come to the attention of the said organisation.
In addition, personnel from the office of the Refugee Commissioner conduct only one information session per group of arrivals and, usually, such is conducted before asylum seekers register their desire to apply for asylum. There is a lack of a constant flow of information from the authorities throughout the various stages of the procedure, with no information desk or similar initiative at the Refugee Commissioner’s office. Throughout the different stages of the asylum procedure, asylum seekers can only obtain further information from NGOs.
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 of all this, the information provided cannot be considered to be 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.
Over the course of 2016, NGOs providing legal aid to asylum seekers have noticed an increase of referrals to the Dublin Unit. Since the end of 2016, RefCom provides to asylum seekers for whom a Dublin transfer is considered a document explaining the Dublin procedure and the fact that their case is on hold until a possible Dublin decision is taken. This document is a standard information sheet but does provide individualised information to whom it is given.