A council grouping NGOs that work in the refugee sector has urged the government to reopen an honest dialogue on the laws, policies and practices to manage migration and asylum, while describing Malta as offering an extremely hostile environment to refugees.

"The government refuses to explain why they are abandoned out at sea, either not rescued or not allowed to safely disembark. Hundreds are detained in squalid conditions and on dubious legal grounds in what international human rights bodies described as 'institutional mass neglect'. New detention rules dramatically limit their possibility of (such people) receiving needed information and support," the Malta Refugee Council said.

In a statement to mark World Refugee Day, the council said measures adopted by the government to speed up an under-resourced asylum procedure limit the opportunity for persons to fully explain why they are in need of protection.

Furthermore, the care provided to the most vulnerable is, at most, basic.

The council said dialogue between the Government and civil society, including refugee-led groups, has been effectively closed.

"Never before has refugee protection been so challenging," it said.

The council appealed to Malta to be a place of shelter for those men, women and children forced to flee their homes, whether it is the war in Ukraine, discriminatory laws in Nigeria or ethnic conflict in South Sudan, among others.

"All refugees share the same need for safety, protection and dignity. Safety, for refugees as for all of us, requires us to ensure no lives are lost or harmed in fleeing and seeking protection. It means ensuring we rescue people in distress at sea and bring them to land as soon as possible. Importantly, it requires us to stop pushing refugees back to countries where we know they will surely face the most horrific violations," it said.

"Protection, for refugees as for all of us, means living conditions that do not expose people to violence, threats, abuse, insults or any form or dehumanising treatment. It means ensuring that everyone is offered the full opportunity to explain their personal story, with the necessary support. Essentially, it means that refugees are all equally able to receive documents confirming their status and to approach procedures, systems and entities that provide support and services."

"To treat refugees with dignity is to appreciate their individual human experiences and provide them with the space and opportunity to regain control over their own lives. It means rethinking our relationship with refugees from one that ‘manages migration and asylum’ to one that ‘supports individual empowerment and growth," it added.

It urged the government to reopen an honest dialogue on the laws, policies and practices to manage migration and asylum so as to ensure real safety, protection and dignity, while promoting effective integration, for all refugees.

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