Updated 7.30 pm with President, minister's reaction

Three independent media houses have taken a joint stand to call on the government to review Malta’s arbitrary system of Temporary Humanitarian Protection, which has effectively put the lives of hundreds of migrants in limbo.

Read: The Editorial

In a joint editorial, addressed to the Maltese government and copied in to the European Commission, the Times of Malta, Malta Today and The Malta Independent said that the government’s order appears to be guided by opportunistic politics rather than reasoned policy.

In November, the Home Affairs Ministry suspended the renewal of those holding Temporary Humanitarian Protection – New (THPn) status, a move which incensed human rights organisations.

The migrants who fall into this category have been given until October 31 to start making arrangements to procure all the required documentation from their country of origin.

But rights organisations say the scheme will require hundreds to comply with requirements the ministry knows they are unable to meet, including procurement of identification documentation and the labour market test.

Until last year, there were just under 1,000 people with THPn status. While all had their asylum claims rejected upon appeal, they remain in Malta, as the authorities have not been able to return them, through no fault of their own.

Read: Migrants rounded up and detained

The three news organisations have therefore appealed to the government to create legal pathways for the regularisation for non-returnable migrants.

Minister accuses media of taking one-sided view, but President praises the initiative

In a reaction this evening, while admitting that the Maltese system would benefit from further reform, the Home Affairs Minister said the editorial only presented a one-sided “if not misleading view” of the asylum scenario in Malta.

The three news organisations maintained they have been guided in their stand by the researched opinion of NGOs working with migrants, and called on the Maltese government to regulate the situation of rejected asylum seekers it was previously unwilling or unable to return.

Carmelo Abela insisted that rejected asylum seekers who are now facing deportation had an opportunity to return to their countries under an assisted returns programme.

Minister Carmelo Abela.Minister Carmelo Abela.

“The editorial does raise a number of valid points, particularly as regards the need for a move away from a culture of concessions to a culture of rights. In principle, government is in agreement with this view, although it would also have to be emphasized that rights also entail duties,” Mr Abela said.

“THPN, in fact, may well be thought of as part of a culture of concessions, as opposed to rights. What the editorial fails to mention is that THPN was not withdrawn without any alternative being given.”

The fact that Malta currently holds the Presidency of the Council, which on the other hand is mentioned by the editorial, actually places even greater responsibility upon the Maltese authorities to intensify their efforts

Mr Abela disagreed that the detention of the Malian migrants whose THPN had been removed, was “guided by opportunistic politics rather than reasoned policy”. He also defended Malta’s laws as being in line with the EU’s Returns Directive and part of an EU-wide effort to return rejected asylum seekers.

“The fact that Malta currently holds the Presidency of the Council, which on the other hand is mentioned by the editorial, actually places even greater responsibility upon the Maltese authorities to intensify their efforts to return irregularly present third-country nationals,” the minister said.

He suggested that the rejected asylum seekers who were now in detention had not taken the opportunity to apply for the International Organisation for Migration's assisted voluntary return and reintegration scheme in 2007, which gave returning migrants a financial package to return home.

“It is understood that the discontinuation of such status would have posed cause for concern [but] THPN was part of the very system that the editorial itself brands a ‘system of concessions’ and that, in any case, an alternative was offered to those concerned,” he said.

The three news organisations outlined how the culture of concessions prevailing under THPN was not buttressed with real rights for people who had now becoming integrated in Maltese society.

The minister said the objective now was to “mainstream” THP holders who are gainfully employed and effectively integrated, into a residence permit system operated by Identity Malta.

Abela said that those who fail to qualify under such a system, but who are in a situation that calls for humanitarian protection, will still avail of THP from the Office of the Refugee Commissioner if they have "specific humanitarian needs".

The initiative was a strong and historical example of connecting together to share one powerful message of peace.- President Coleiro Preca

Meanwhile, President Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca this evening praised the initiative taken by the news organisations, saying it was a historical example of sharing a message of peace.

Speaking at a lecture on extremism and the media, facilitated by the President’s Foundation for the Wellbeing of Society, together with the School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution of George Mason University, Ms Coleiro Preca noted that the way information was disseminated and interpreted significantly impacted the way people spoke about what was going on around them.

Perceptions were often changed by the media, and this, she added, placed “tremendous responsibility” on those communicating information.

The President also spoke about freedom of expression as a celebration of cultural and social diversity. When societies lacked diversity and mutually-respectful sources of information, this led to social tensions, Ms Coleiro Preca said.

Humanity became defenceless against voices of extremists, who offered deceptive promises of stability and truth, while in the process reinforcing prejudices and discrimination, she added. 

Referring to the editorial by Times of Malta, Malta Today and The Malta Independent, Dr Coleiro Preca said:

“I believe we must call for our news outlets and media portals to become spaces of connection and healing,” she said, adding that this was perfectly expressed in the editorials where the media houses showed “a strong and historical example of connecting together to share one powerful message of peace”.

We should be encouraged by this to continue promoting conflict-sensitive and peace-oriented approaches through the media, she added.


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