Arrivals of immigrants this year have exceeded the annual average since 2002, Refugee Commissioner Mario Guido Friggieri said today.

Speaking at a conference held by his office to mark World Refugee Day, he said the upheaval in Libya had sparked the increased influx of migrants, with seven boats having arrived in Malta so far in 2011.

The boats carried 1,530 migrants.

The Refugee Office, he said, had already tacked 600 applications for protection made by the immigrant and 420 were decided.

Five immigrants were granted refugee status, 370 were granted subsidiary protection, eight received temporary humanitarian protection status and one was given special protection. 36 applications were rejected.

This, Mr Friggieri said, was a real marathon for the staff at his office.

APPLICATIONS DECIDED WITHIN SIX MONTHS

Home Affairs Minister Carm Mifsud Bonnici said that staff recruitment and procedural reforms at the Office of the Refugee Commissioner have resulted in more expeditious determination of asylum applications made by immigrants and most cases are now being determined within an average of six months.

He said this progress made possible the early release of such people from detention.

Malta, he said, has also been made in the integration field, through EU-financed projects seeking to enhance the employability of beneficiaries of international protection, as well as their language and other pertinent skills.

Dr Mifsud Bonnici said that despite refurbishment of the open and closed centres, accommodation, particularly at Open Centres, remained challenging.

"The difficulties faced by beneficiaries of international protection in
integrating, mainly in view of the country's innate limitations, translate into prolonged stays at the Centres by significant numbers of migrants. This, combined with new arrivals, leads to a situation where the Centres are constantly full to capacity.

"Evidently, this scenario hinders refurbishment of the Centres, although such projects have in fact been undertaken. This state of affairs appears set to persist, in view of the fact that Government recognises that many of these people in practice do not have alternative accommodation arrangements, and they are therefore allowed to continue to stay on at the Centres. This means that the standards at Open Centres could never rise beyond the provision of basic services; however this is considered far preferable to leaving substantial numbers of migrants out on the streets without alternative accommodation."

"The situation at Open Centres, which has often been criticised by international NGOs among others, is ultimately the result of the asylum pressures Malta is facing. It is, at the end of the day, one of the
main reasons why Malta has requested the assistance of the EU Member States and the United States by means of the resettlement of beneficiaries of international protection."

The minister observed that 654 refugees had been resettled to the United States since 2007, whereas 227 were resettled by means of the EU Pilot Project and a further 190 by means of bilateral projects with several EU Member States. France and Germany alone have resettled a total of
191 and 133 persons respectively.

A total of twelve States, including eight EU Member States as well as Norway and Switzerland, have pledged to take part in the extension of the EU Pilot Project that is presently ongoing. It is expected that a further 385 persons would be resettled as a result of this project, including 150 to
Germany.

"Solidarity towards these beneficiaries of international protection in Malta is positive. However it is considered that the European Union can, and should, do more. This is especially so when considering that a substantial number of asylum seekers who reached Malta this year pursuant to the troubles in Libya are prima facie eligible for international protection, a factor that has increased in the number of beneficiaries of international protection in Malta to over 2,700," Dr Mifsud Bonnici said.

"This state of affairs confirms that more needs to be done not only for Malta's benefit, but also for the benefit of persons in need of international protection, as further resettlement projects will also facilitate the integration of those who will remain in Malta."

Nevertheless, Dr Mifsud Bonnici said, he welcomed the fact that the European Union had taken important steps to tackle asylum matters in a co-ordinated and co-operative matter between all member states.

He reiterated Malta's commitment to the 1951 Geneva Convention, to the
EU international protection instruments, as well as to the beneficiaries of international protection in Malta.