Malta, a key entry point into Europe, needs to step up its preparation for migrants and asylum-seekers crossing the Mediterranean Sea and arriving at its external borders, United Nations human rights expert François Crépeau warned today.
He also urged European countries to support Malta’s efforts and “shoulder their share of responsibilities.” This call comes on today’s International Human Rights Day, an occasion to “remember that human rights do not only belong to Europeans,” Mr. Crépeau added.
“Malta is likely to see an increase in the number of arrivals in 2015 with the phasing out of the Italian rescue programme Mare Nostrum,” the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants said at the end of his visit to the island to assess how it manages its borders.
During his five days in Malta, the Special Rapporteur met with a range of Government officials, international organisations, civil society organisations and migrants themselves.
“Over the last year, as a result of Mare Nostrum, the number of migrants arriving in Malta has fallen significantly because, once rescued at sea, they have been disembarked in Italy,” Mr. Crépeau said. “However, things are about to change and Malta must prepare for the numbers of migrants that will arrive.”
“Consequently, the reception of such migrants and asylum seekers should not always be conducted in an ad hoc manner,” he advised.
Programmes must be developed to welcome and process adequately high numbers of migrants with a long term vision to deal with providing immediate assistance, offering legal safeguards and integration programmes for migrants and asylum-seekers that arrive irregularly.
The Special Rapporteur also called on Europe to actively support the initiatives developed by the Maltese Government and shoulder its share of responsibilities which include opening legal and safe channels for migration and mobility within the European Union.
“Migration cannot simply be seen as a border security operation,” he said. “Over-reliance on border security – which focuses on policing, defence and criminality, instead of a rights-based approach – only serves to give a false sense of control over one’s borders.”
The expert also called on Malta to stop the policy of mandatory detention of all migrants and asylum-seekers that arrive at its borders. “Mandatory detention serves to inspire fear and distrust in the relationship between migrants, asylum-seekers and the Maltese population,” he said “This climate of fear goes on to define the policies and programmes of the Maltese authorities.”
And under no circumstances should children be held in detention: “Detaining children can never ever be in the best interests of a child and children and families with children should be hosted in open facilities with appropriate services,” he said.
Detention should always be a measure of last resort. Malta must develop non-custodial alternatives to detention for most migrants.
Additionally, upon arrival, vulnerable people – such as women, unaccompanied children and families –must be offered appropriate services to their particular vulnerabilities.
“Couples with children or female-headed households should not be housed in the immediate proximity of single men. It is important that, once vulnerabilities are identified, the right protections are then provided,” Mr. Crépeau said.
Several recent declarations show a political openness and will to ensure human rights for all in Malta and should be translated into concrete legislation and programs, he added.
A country mission report and a thematic report on EU border management will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council in June 2015.
Mr. Crépeau was appointed Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants in 2011 by the UN Human Rights Council. As Special Rapporteur, he is independent from any government or organization and serves in his individual capacity.