The Agency for the Welfare of Asylum-Seekers (AWAS) is in charge 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 governed 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 suddenly stopped from being applied in 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 found to be 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.
Therefore, the reception procedure currently depends on the space available to accommodate applicants. AWAS regularly informs the authorities and Detention Services about how many places are available.
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. 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 Hal Far (composed of several centres), an Initial Reception Centre in Marsa, and several apartments.
In 2020, overcrowding, poor conditions, and shortages of trained staff in reception facilities were reported. Homelessness is increasing because asylum applicants are required to leave open centres after a short period of time as space for quarantining is needed, and as a result of job losses and difficulties in finding stable work. Delays in providing asylum-seekers with documentation have also impacted access to employment, education, and basic social support.
Despite available EU funding, the planned new open centre in Hal Far that would increase residential capacity by 400 persons is yet to be built, and offshore reception/detention has been introduced.