The Chapter: Reception Conditions in Malta contains sections on:
A. Access and forms of reception conditions
C. Employment and education
D. Health care
F. Information for asylum seekers and access to reception centres
Short overview of the reception system
The Agency for the Welfare of Asylum-Seekers (AWAS) is in charge of the open elements of the reception system for asylum-seekers in Malta. The Agency manages the reception centres and provides welfare services to asylum-seekers and some beneficiaries of international protection (since protection beneficiaries are entitled to access mainstream services).
Officially, the reception system in Malta is still regulated by the 2015 Strategy for the Reception of Asylum-seekers and irregular migrants. This policy is based on the transposition into national legislation of the Reception Conditions Directive and the Return Directive. According to the policy, all applicants arriving irregularly by boat are sent to an Initial Reception Centre where checks and assessments (age assessment, vulnerability assessment, need to detain) are conducted before being referred to detention or reception centres.
However, this policy was suspended during the summer of 2018, due to a significant increase in the number of asylum-seekers arriving by boat. The whole Maltese reception system, not sufficiently equipped to deal with such high numbers, was put under extreme pressure. Due to lack of space available in overcrowded reception centres, the authorities decided to automatically detain all applicants arriving irregularly in Malta or rescued at sea.
However, despite the drastic decrease in arrivals since 2021 and a low rate of occupancy in the open centre, the Government still automatically detains all asylum seekers arriving by boat on health grounds, and the Immigration Police still detains all individuals coming from Bangladesh, Egypt, Morocco, Lebanon, Ghana, Ivory Coast and Nigeria.
Families, UAMs, and vulnerable applicants are prioritised and, according to the authorities, should not be detained. However, applicants may stay for prolonged periods of time in detention before they undergo an assessment, and it is established that they are a minor or vulnerable.
Applicants are usually released in chronological order depending on date of arrival. A place in a reception centre does not depend on the status of their application but only on the space available.
Once admitted, families and vulnerable applicants can be accommodated for one year while single males are given a six-month contract which can be extended if the applicant is considered to be vulnerable. People are asked to leave at the end of their contract irrespective of their status and even if their application for international protection is still pending.
The Maltese reception system consists of several reception facilities, divided mainly between one large scale area in Ħal Far (composed of several centres), an Initial Reception Centre in Marsa, and several apartments.
Six months remain an extremely limited amount of time for asylum-seekers to acquire language skills, find a regular employment and save what is sufficient to make front to regular rent payments. Access to formal employment remains an issue, with asylum seekers from countries deemed safe barred from accessing regular employment for the first 9 months of their stay. As a result many asyum seekers have to resort to irregular, unstable work positions. Homelessness was reported to be on the rise, with informal settlements cropping up around open centres to cater for those who have been evicted and do not have a place to stay. Upon intervention of social workers, extensions of contracts in open centres were granted to those asylum-seekers who were identified. NGOs report that, following individual interventions, AWAS often agrees to continue granting the per diem to applicants when they leave – freely or forcibly – the open reception centres.
A report published in December 2021 by JRS and aditus foundation entitled “In Pursuit of Livelihood: An in-depth investigation of asylum-seekers’ battle against poverty and social exclusion in Malta” concluded “that asylum seekers face poverty and social exclusion from the very start of their life in Malta. The interviews painted a picture of a reception system that fails to act as a stepping stone towards self-sufficiency due to the absence of a language and/ or vocational programme that is intrinsically linked to the reception stage and the meagre per diem allowance. Participants left the open centre with the same deficiencies in skills, competencies, savings and job prospects they had when they entered.”. The report draws on data collected by interviewing the head of household on income and health indicators, deprivation and dwelling conditions from 116 households.
 JRS and aditus foundation, In Pursuit of Livelihood: An in-depth investigation of asylum-seekers’ battle against poverty and social exclusion in Malta, December 2021, available at https://bit.ly/3INSF1W