Country Report: Overview of the main changes since the previous report update Last updated: 23/05/22
The report was previously updated in May 2021.
- Pushbacks at sea: Since May 2020 and throughout 2021, the Armed Forces of Malta (AFM) drastically decreased its rescues at sea. NGOs report that Malta is not conducting rescue operations in the Maltese SAR zone south of Lampedusa, and instead relies on merchant vessels and the Libyan coastguard to push boats back to Libya. The authorities are accused of preventing boats entering the island’s SAR zone and multiple incidents of pushbacks were reported by NGOs.
- Access to the territory: In 2021, the Maltese Government continued to deny disembarkation to individuals rescued at sea in particular where the rescue was conducted by NGO vessels. In the latter cases, the official position is that these rescues constitute ‘interceptions’ and should be regulated by the ship’s flag state.
- Key asylum statistics: In 2021, 1,281 first time applications were lodged, and 3,265 applications were still pending at the end of the year. The International Protection Agency (IPA) issued 691 first instance decisions, the vast majority of which (477) were rejected as manifestly unfounded or inadmissible and thus channelled through the accelerated procedure with no possibility to appeal. The Agency issued 170 positive decisions, which puts the recognition rate at first instance at 25%. However, the Agency also issued 1,729 decisions to discontinue applications, 72% of all the total amount of decisions taken in 2021. This therefore brings down the recognition rate at first instance to an historical low 8%. The International Protection Appeals Tribunal (IPAT) issued 765 decisions, including 482 reviews under the accelerated procedure. All of them were rejections.
- Response to the crisis in Ukraine as of 20 April 2022: At the moment, there is no coordinated effort at Government level to implement the Directive and limited information on the matter is available. Pre-approval to travel to Malta is no longer required from Ukraine, since the country lifted the COVID-19 restrictions that still applied for persons coming from said country; quarantine at an alternative accommodation is currently allowed. Ukrainians do not need a visa to access Malta and are automatically granted a 90-day visa upon entry. In February 2022, a Community Crisis Centre was created with the help of the Honorary Consulate of Ukraine in Malta, to better coordinating reception efforts. As of March 2022, the International Protection Agency started to provide specific information regarding applications to Ukrainian Nationals that wish to apply for the Temporary Protection under the Temporary Protection Directive (2001/55/EC). On 4 April 2022, the IPA indicated that it received 247 requests for Temporary Protection and issued 193 decisions to grant protection. Persons who left Ukraine before 24 February 2022 are not eligible for Temporary Protection yet are able to apply for International Protection.
- Prioritisation of manifestly unfounded cases: In 2021, the International Protection Agency (IPA) significantly reduced its backlog by massively discontinuing applications as implicitly withdrawn and prioritising manifestly unfounded cases. The accelerated procedure, which does not offer the possibility to appeal the rejection, continued to be resorted to by the Agency. Individuals served with rejections in the accelerated procedure then face protracted detention in squalid conditions and limited judicial safeguards until their return is executed or they reach the maximum amount of time in detention allowed under the Return Directive. The IPA therefore prioritises applications likely to be manifestly unfounded to the detriment of other asylum seekers, whose applications are left pending far beyond the deadlines foreseen by law for obtaining a decision. Some individuals have reportedly been waiting for 4 years, while applications from newly arrived asylum seekers are rejected as manifestly unfounded in a matter of months. As a result of this policy, the recognition rate dropped to an all-time low of 8%.
- Second instance procedures: In 2021, most of the Tribunal’s decisions were the three-days’ reviews carried out within the scope of the accelerated procedure. The Tribunal issued an important number of rejections due to a failure to file submissions on the part of the appellant, which automatically leads the IPAT to reject the case without going into the merits. For cases in which an appeal may be filed, appellants reportedly wait several years at the second instance stage, far above the deadlines foreseen by law. 2021 also marked a record low in terms of IPAT decisions, given that the Tribunal only issued rejections, which meant a 0% recognition rate for applicants at second instance.
- Refurbishment of the open centres: Living conditions have reportedly marginally improved; in particular, refurbishments were carried and a new space was built in the open centres. Life in these centres continues to be challenging, despite an occupancy rate close to 26% of their full capacity at the end of the year, an historical low for Malta. This is also due to the fact that only 838 new arrivals in the centres were registered in 2021.
- Eviction of non-vulnerable asylum seekers: Despite the availability in terms of space, the policy of eviction of non-vulnerable asylum seekers after 6 months continues to be applied by AWAS. The number of settlements created by evicted asylum seekers continued to grow, as many are unable to afford housing. This situation worsened significantly since the emergence of the new work policy which forbids access to the labour market to asylum seekers hailing from safe countries of origin for the first 9 months after they registered their asylum application. These individuals are therefore evicted from open centres before being legally able to work and sustain themselves.
Detention of asylum seekers
- Detention upon arrival: The policy of detaining asylum seekers automatically upon arrival continued in 2021, with the use of de facto detention for the first months, either as a measure of quarantine against COVID-19 or on the basis of the Prevention of Disease Ordinance. During this period of detention, all asylum seekers except families and young children are detained, including individuals claiming to be minors.
- Detention and returns: Only asylum seekers from countries of origin where return is feasible were officially detained by the Principal Immigration Officer (PIO), yet without any individual assessment being carried out. For these cases, detention coupled with being channelled in the accelerated procedure, ensures that the individual will be issued with a removal order and a return decision in a matter of months.
- Legal assistance in detention: Despite some positive improvements in the possibility to provide legal aid, which is now correctly implemented for the initial automatic review of detention, challenging the detention of asylum seekers remains particularly difficult as the main remedy foreseen by the law, i.e. the Immigration Appeals Board, is perceived to be mostly ineffective due to its lack of independence and expertise within the field of asylum and human rights. Legal assistance is mainly provided by the two major NGOs in the field, aditus foundation and JRS Malta. State sponsored legal aid is available only for the first 7-days’ review of detention, which leaves most asylum seekers with limited means to challenge their detention past this initial review. Access to detention in the living quarters is now forbidden to NGOs and lawyers, creating tremendous difficulties in providing legal services to detainees due to the lack of access to phones inside and the necessity to meet their clients in a unique board room on the margin of the detention centre.
- Detention conditions: Detention conditions remained an issue in 2021, despite two reports – published by the Council of Europe and the United Nations – denouncing the alarming situation. While the limited access to detention makes it difficult for lawyers and NGOs to report on detention conditions, detainees have been regularly complaining of substandard living arrangements. These complaints reflect the reports’ findings, whereby it was found that detainees were held in the following detention conditions: partial to no access to outdoor areas; partial to no access to common areas; no access to any prayer room or private space; limited access to a phone to make any calls, including to lawyers; no access to any leisure activities; sharing rooms of 3m2 to 5m2 with 3 to 8 people; minors detained with adult men; no ventilation, lights or heating in any of the rooms; no access to drinkable water; lack of appropriate clothes and bedsheets for the weather; no proper means of cleaning themselves and their clothes; no information provided regarding their detention, or the procedure; lack of access to healthcare.
 Information provided by IPA, 4 April 2022.