The provisions in the law regarding information to asylum seekers are contained in Regulation 3(3) of the Declaration Regulations and Regulations 4 and 5 of the Procedural Regulations. The former 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 by both 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.
Since 2019, information is 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 on the Dublin procedure. However, this appointment can happen months after their arrival.
Consequently, most applicants detained upon arrival are not informed about the ground for their detention, nor about their rights as asylum-seekers. Some applicants are 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”. It seems this material has not been produced, or is not accessible to detained applicants.
Moreover, both NGOs and UNHCR were denied access to detention for several months in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving hundreds of asylum-seekers with no information or assistance. Visits from NGOs resumed in May 2021, albeit strictly limited to pre-identified individuals that have to be seen in a boardroom. As such, living quarters are not visited anymore by NGOs and individuals that lawyers do not know about can go through their entire procedure without receiving any information on it.
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. At the moment, only JRS visits the open centres to provide information. However, NGO staff are strictly limited to a specific area.
The December amendments to the Procedural Regulations introduced provisions for applicants held in detention facilities or present at border crossing points whereby “the relevant authorities shall provide them with information on the possibility to do so and shall make arrangements for interpretation to the extent necessary to facilitate access to the asylum procedure”. It is too early to say whether practice will actually be impacted by these changes.
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. 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 distributed to asylum seekers, including those in detention.
 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.