Some refugees find it so challenging to settle with their families in Malta that they have no other choice but to relocate elsewhere after spending years here, according to new research.

“The hoops that some refugees are made to jump through make them feel unwanted. They feel like ‘lesser beings’ and insist that if their families are unwanted in Malta, they should be allowed to move on to another country,” legal officer and lecturer Sandra Hili Vassallo told the Times of Malta. 

This unfortunate situation is brought about because immigration laws sometimes trump the universal right to family life. Refugees seem to have a mirage of rights: on paper the rights are there but when it comes to implementing them in everyday life, the challenges are too great and some find they have no choice but to leave, she noted.

One such challenge is family reunification, which is known to help migrants integrate. While, on paper, they have a right to reunification, refugees in Malta are expected to sponsor their family and guarantee that they will be able to maintain them financially.

They feel like lesser beings

Then, once here, the relatives are not granted refugee status, but a derivative one described as ‘family reunification’, meaning they will still be billed for basic services such as health, unless they are accompanied by the person with refugee status.

While it may take years for some to be reunited with their families, others who do not fit in the narrow definition of what constitutes a family might find it impossible to ever settle down, Dr Hili Vassallo noted.

She is therefore recommending widening the definition of family (spouse and children under 18) because of the culture of polygamy in some countries, dependent children with a disability, and same-sex or cohabiting couples.

Dr Hili Vassallo was speaking to the Times of Malta ahead of a public lecture by the President’s Foundation for the Wellbeing of Society, on the right to a family life for refugees.

She will be backing her lecture with findings from her study, in which she interviewed five male refugees and migration stakeholders, including NGOs and the authorities.

In her recommendations, Dr Hili Vassallo is also calling for people with subsidiary protection to have a right to family reunion.

Although they do not legally have this right, these migrants should be granted reunification on humanitarian grounds.

“Subsidiary protection is sometimes arbitrary – you are neither a refugee nor an economic migrant.

“There might be no civil war in your country, but you could still be persecuted for your beliefs, or for belonging to some tribe for example.

“Authorities grant this status as they might feel that these people could one day return home, but what happens in the meantime? Some spend so many years here that they could integrate and settle down well if they are given peace of mind by being reunited with their family.”

The lecture called The Right to Family Life of Refugees will be held on June 18 at 6pm at San Anton Palace in Attard.

To book a place call on 2148 4662 or send an e-mail on

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