09. August 2013 · Kommentare deaktiviert für Boat-people: „Malta braucht EU-Hilfe“ – Guardian · Kategorien: Europa, Italien, Malta · Tags:


Malta needs EU help to cope with its immigration crisis
Malta receives the highest number of asylum applications in the world in relation to its population. Only EU help can alleviate a growing sense of despair
Jessica Abrahams

„Earlier this week, a rubber dinghy overloaded with refugees attempting to flee Africa for the safety of Europe ran into difficulty. As the boat – travelling from Libya to the EU’s smallest state, Malta – began to sink, the Maltese army launched a 13-hour overnight operation to rescue the 112 passengers. Eight were airlifted to hospital for emergency treatment; the rest were suffering from exhaustion, dehydration and sunstroke.

This story is not unusual. Each week similar boats arrive on the country’s shores. Last month, the prime minister, Joseph Muscat, attempted to send two planeloads of Somali migrants back to Africa, without hearing their pleas for asylum – echoing recent suggestions of a „tow-back“ policy in Australia – before the European court of human rights (ECHR) issued an interim ruling that this would be illegal. […]

Before Malta joined the EU in 2004, immigration levels were negligible. Because it is located close to north Africa, it has now become a gateway for migrants seeking entry to Europe. In relation to its population, it receives the highest number of asylum applications in the world. This is partly because it’s so small – smaller than the Isle of Wight. The 17,000 undocumented migrants who have arrived in the last decade are equivalent to 2.7 million landing in Britain.

Having made the perilous journey, conditions for refugees when they arrive are poor. Malta operates a policy of mandatory detention of up to 18 months for undocumented migrants, housing them in crowded detention centres. Last week, it was fined €60,000 by the ECHR after the conditions that some migrants had been held in were ruled to constitute „inhuman or degrading treatment“. These included cold temperatures, inadequate diet and lack of access to open air or exercise for up to three months at a time.

As elsewhere, immigration policy has become an obsession in recent weeks. Australia is facing controversy over its practice of diverting refugees to camps in Papua New Guinea, while the UK is embroiled in discussion about the ethics of a Home Office crackdown on illegal immigration. Visiting family in Malta last week, immigration was the topic of conversation everywhere I went; flicking through the national papers, page after page was dedicated to it.

[…] Whether this is a „crisis“ or not is up for debate – many of the migrants ultimately move on from Malta, and research from Oxford University has suggested that the use of detention centres is a way of exaggerating the severity of the situation – but the government argues that it simply doesn’t have the resources to deal with the boatloads of migrants arriving on its shores. It is renewing its call for the EU to implement a policy of mandatory burden sharing, whereby countries elsewhere in Europe would be obliged to absorb some of the migrants arriving in „frontier“ countries like Malta. This solution has been supported in the past by Italy, Cyprus and Greece, also struggling with an influx of asylum applications, particularly after the Arab spring, but it has generally been met with resistance in Brussels.

What is clear is that the situation cannot continue as it is, with no integration, ethnic minorities segregated and exploited, and racist sentiments on the rise. Push backs, like the one attempted last month, are quite rightly illegal, but if the EU supports the protection of asylum seekers it must help frontier countries implement policies that will help achieve this. […] Proper systems must be put in place to assist migrants when they arrive, process applications faster and integrate or resettle them if they are granted asylum. The EU must offer resources and co-operation across member states to see that this happens.“

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