Russian orphans brought to Malta for short stays with local families may have been scarred by the experience, experts have told The Sunday Times.

Children's Commissioner Carmen Zammit voiced concern over the work of the International Charity Society, which has brought Russian children to Malta since 1998. The issues she raised were backed by clinical psychologist Martin Micallef.

The Sunday Times last week highlighted the case of 13-year-old boy Sergei Federov who was hosted by Karl and Romina Bonaci for five years before being sent back to Russia in January. He has not returned.

This occurred weeks before the body of another orphan, Maxim Vorobyev, was found in the sea 10 days after he disappeared last February.

After the incident, the rest of the children from the Tver region were rounded up and returned home.

"These children were getting a taste of something they never had, but have now been sent back. I question whether this experience has done them any good," Ms Zammit said.

The Commissioner said it was a concern that these orphans were settling down in Malta, going to school and making friends when there was no official long-term arrangement for them to stay.

"I was always worried that they could be taken away at any time," she said, adding that some might have been scarred by the experience.

She acknowledged that Maltese families were trying to help and offer children an opportunity for a better life, even if this was for a short time. However, Ms Zammit said she would be writing to Russia's Ombudsman in an attempt to find a solution.

Mr Micallef echoed her concerns: "Fostering is good because you are giving children a chance of a family experience, but this has to be consistent."

Taking the children back after a stay here could create a feeling of insecurity, especially when they would have forged a bond with their host family, Mr Micallef said.

"They might already be sensitive to rejection and loss, so instilling in them a sense of attachment and then taking them away might be harmful," he said, adding that it could lead to emotional difficulties and problems. Mr Micallef said it might be more beneficial to bring the children over for a holiday, putting them up in a hostel as a group, rather than placing them with family - so that they would not forge a bond and suffer when this is broken.

The issue was discussed last Tuesday between Foreign Affairs Minister Tonio Borg and his Russian counterpart Sergey Viktorovich Lavrov. Dr Borg said the Maltese Embassy in Moscow was looking into the case.

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