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“Malta needs to step up its preparation for the next wave of migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea” – UN expert

VALETTA (10 December 2014) – Malta needs to step up its preparation for the foreseeable number of migrants and asylum seekers crossing the Mediterranean Sea and arriving at its external borders, United Nations human rights expert François Crépeau has warned today. He urged European countries to support Malta’s efforts and “shoulder their share of responsibilities”

“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 official visit* to the island to assess how the country manages its external borders, particularly its maritime borders, and the impact this has on the human rights of migrants.

“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.”

This migration phenomenon, he stressed, must be considered as the “new normal” for the coming years. “Consequently, the reception of such migrants and asylum seekers should not always be conducted in an ad hoc manner. In proportion to its size, Malta offers the highest number of protection measures to migrants and asylum seekers coming to Europe,” he advised.

“Programmes must be developed in building the capacity 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 said.

Mr. Crépeau noted that Malta is a key entry point into Europe and, as such, European states must provide technical, financial and human resources to support the country’s efforts to develop a comprehensive, rights-based migration policy.

“Malta should not be left alone in addressing and developing these programmes. Europe must 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,” he said.

“This year has seen an unprecedented number of migrants and asylum seekers arrive at Europe’s borders and today, International Human Rights Day, is an important occasion for us to remember that human rights do not only belong to Europeans. They belong to all of us, regardless of our nationality, immigration status or circumstances,” he stated.

The Special Rapporteur urged Malta to effectively apply a human rights based approach to migrants and asylum seekers arriving and develop a coherent and effective migration policy. “Migration cannot simply be seen as a border security operation,” he said. “Over-reliance on border security – which focuses on policing, defense and criminality, instead of a rights-based approach – only serves to give a false sense of control over one’s borders.”

The expert 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.”

The Special Rapporteur stressed that 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. Additionally, detention should always be a measure of last resort and I strongly urge the government of Malta to develop non-custodial alternatives to detention for most migrants”. Malta has taken steps towards that goal and should immediately strengthen this approach by enshrining this new policy initiative into law.

Upon arrival, vulnerable people – such as women, unaccompanied children and families – are being quickly identified. However, the services and facilities that they are being offered must be appropriate to their particular vulnerabilities.

“Identifying vulnerable groups is the first step and services and facilities must reflect this. 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. “.

“Malta is showing promising signs of going in the right direction”, the expert said. “Several recent declarations show a political openness and will to ensure human rights for all in Malta and it should be translated into concrete legislation and programs. For example, Plans for the creation of a national human rights institution respecting the Paris principles and for the creation, of an integration unit which will focus on equality and non-discrimination for all, including for migrants, are excellent news, although still in need of implementation”.

Mr. Crépeau noted that Malta has a vibrant civil society and hosts international organisations specialised on migration policies. “The Maltese government should work in close collaboration with these stakeholders, making full use of their expertise and experience, in order to better protect migrants and asylum seekers,” he stressed.

During his five-day country visit, the Special Rapporteur met with a range of Government officials, international organisations, civil society organisations and migrants themselves, to discuss the complex management of the common European border in Malta.

A country mission report and a thematic report on EU border management will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council in June 2015.

(*) Check the full end-of-mission statement: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=15398&LangID=E

François Crépeau (Canada) 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. Mr. Crépeau is also Full Professor at the Faculty of Law of McGill University, in Montréal, where he holds the Hans and Tamar Oppenheimer Chair in Public International Law. Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Migration/SRMigrants/Pages/SRMigrantsIndex.aspx

In 2012, the Special Rapporteur undertook a one-year comprehensive study to examine the rights of migrants in the Euro-Mediterranean region, focusing in particular on the management of the external borders of the European Union. Starting with a visit to the EU authorities in Brussels, Mr. Crépeau also visited Turkey, Tunisia, Greece and Italy. (His reports can be found at: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Migration/SRMigrants/Pages/CountryVisits.aspx

Read the International Convention for the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/CMW.aspx

For more information and media requests please contact Elizabeth Wabuge (+41 79 201 0122 / ewabuge@ohchr.org)

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)

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