Around 20 Serbian families are still waiting to hear whether they can keep their children in the country, more than a year after they were told by Identity Malta they did not earn enough to maintain them.

In December 2019, Times of Malta reported that 41 children were denied residence permits by the government entity since their parents did not satisfy the financial requirements of a policy.

The report caused an uproar with Archbishop Charles Scicluna and tenor Joseph Calleja among those pleading to stop the evictions and the families of 37 of the children receiving legal aid to file appeals that very month.

However, logistical issues created by the pandemic are causing lengthy delays and the families are still waiting for a decision that will determine the fate of their children, the legal representative of the families, Mark Sultana, told Times of Malta.

“COVID-19 brought drastic changes to how things are being handled, including cases being heard by the immigration appeals board,” he said.

“Most of the documents were submitted and I also confirm the board is currently reviewing the cases. However, I cannot say when the decision is going to be made. This is the prerogative of the board.”

The families of six of the children had since dropped the appeals, however, due to the pending verdict of the remaining cases, they were advised not to comment.

While such a delay disrupted the families’ lives, Sultana said the issue had to be seen ‘holistically’ since families, irrespective of their nationality, had their lives disrupted due to the pandemic.  

During the partial lockdown, a number of families filing appeals to keep their children in Malta were left distraught when they received letters asking them to leave the country “as soon as possible”. Last April, Alex Muscat, Parliamentary Secretary for Citizenship, slammed Identity Malta for the letters sent.

In a statement, Muscat said he acknowledged that sending such letters caused unnecessary hardship to the families involved, especially in the exceptional circumstances caused by COVID-19.

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