The Council of Europe has called for better protection and integration for migrants through a letter sent by the Commissioner of Human Rights to Malta's Minister for Home Affairs.

The commissioner, Nils Muiznieks, welcomed the end of Malta's automatic migrant detention policy, as well as its participation in the EU refugee relocation programme.

He also noted that living conditions at Ħal-Far migrant reception centre have improved, but further ameliorations were needed, in particular in the single men's unit which consists of containers with poor sanitation facilities'.

Reception centres, the commissioner said, should be transitional accommodation solutions, since migrants and beneficiaries of international protection should have access to adequate housing.

Many, he said, continued to live in reception centres because of a lack of affordable housing, which also affects nationals with low incomes.

"This situation constitutes an obstacle to migrant integration and may generate tensions with the local population, as occurred recently in Marsa. Therefore, I urge Malta to give full effect to Article 31 of the European Social Charter (ESC), which guarantees the right to housing, and Article 16 ESC concerning the right of the family to social, legal and economic protection, by taking appropriate
measures to improve public housing schemes and to eradicate discrimination that migrants may face in their access to housing."

He also urged the Maltese authorities to support and promote human rights awareness campaigns to tackle negative perceptions and stereotypes that affect migrants.

"In addition, distinctions concerning entitlement to social security benefits between refugees and beneficiaries of other forms of international protection should be removed." 

He said migrants' access to the legal employment market was both a condition for their integration and an opportunity for the national economy, which is currently booming and needs the additional workforce.

"The bureaucratic obstacles to migrants' access to the labour market should be removed and steps should be taken to counter the reported labour exploitation of migrants." 

The commissioner also called for measures to benefit migrant family reunification to secure all international protection holders' right to respect for family life under the European Convention on Human Rights.

On the possibility of granting Maltese citizenship, the commissioner observed that applications are considered only if the applicants have resided in Malta for more than 18 years, something which was 'excessive'.

In his reply, Dr Farrugia said Malta's current legislative regime regarding family reunifications was compliant with EU directives.

He said Malta was in the process of revising its migration and asylum systems and efforts were being made to maintain family unity, be it in the context of resettlement and relocation, or in other scenarios.

Read the exchange of letters in full here