Rejected asylum seekers have had to queue overnight to apply for basic rights after they were given a surprise end-of-year deadline to do so.
Last week, these people included a family of six, the youngest a few months old, who had to sleep in their car outside Identity Malta offices in Ħal Far.
People visiting the branch are having difficulty getting in after the new deadline was imposed to file specific residence authority (SRA) applications, several migrants said.
“It is not so much that there are long queues but that they only see a few people, the first 10 or 15 people on the list, before the place closes,” Osas Osakub said.
The SRA status, introduced in 2018, allows failed asylum seekers and holders of temporary humanitarian protection N (THPN) who have lived and worked in Malta for a number of years,to get access to basic rights.
These include state healthcare, education and training as well as the right to travel between Malta and their home country.
Revisions to the policy were announced in November and no new applications for SRA status will be accepted in 2021.
This has shocked NGOS, which say the denial of such rights is regressive and “will exacerbate the pain of many men, women and children”.
This year, 329 asylum seekers were rejected and 225 last year, according to the UNHCR.
However, a spokesperson for the Parliamentary Secretary for Citizenships said the SRA was a one-off scheme and it was never meant to make all rejected asylum seekers entitled to a residence permit and, by extension, those rights.
Samuel Aliu was anxious to put in his application on time.
You come here early, you wait, but you don’t know if you will get seen
He left his house in Buġibba at midnight on Tuesday last week with his wife, Gladys, and four sons, one of them a six-month-old baby.
Spending the night in his small car, he said, was the only way to ensure he could get a spot to lodge his SRA application.
“You come here early, you wait but you don’t know if you will get seen. I came here early other times before and didn’t get in,” he said.
He was lucky to have a car, he added. “I know many others who don’t and have to queue outside with their children.”
Osas Osakub, from Mosta, needed to go to the Identity Malta office to renew his wife’s and son’s identity documents. He spent Tuesday night sleeping outside on a blanket, he told Times of Malta.
The previous day, he had got there at 5am and was 22nd in the line. But Identity Malta only saw about 11 people that day and he did not get in.
On Tuesday, he got there just after 6.30am and did not get in either before the office closed its doors at 12.30pm.
So, to make sure he would be seen the following day, he returned at 3pm so he would be the first in line.
“I took a big blanket and used it like a mattress and slept outside because I don’t have a car. My son and wife came to join me at 7am the next day,” Osakub recounted.
A spokesperson for Identity Malta did not reply directly to the question of whether it was normal for people to sleep in their cars in front of the building in order to get seen to before the agency closes.
He said all people who attend the office during its opening hours (between 7.30am and 12.30pm) are seen to.
“Since the launch of the updated SRA policy, Identity Malta has not received an abnormal amount of requests from potential SRA beneficiaries,” he said, adding that SRA applicants were given priority. Those with an incomplete application or lack of documents were given an appointment.
NGOs say the new policy will only increase poverty and social exclusion, when the pandemic is already having a terrible impact on migrant communities.