The local representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Jon Hoisaeter has urged Malta to prepare for a potential upsurge in migrant departures from Libya as the situation in that country deteriorates.

Speaking before the Social Affairs Committee, he said the situation in Libya could see Libyans escaping from that country, and not just migrants.

Talks about the evolving scenario were being held at various levels with the Ministry of Home Affairs. However, there was no comprehensive discussion on any contingency plan for the various scenarios which may emerge.

Mr Hoisaeter regretted that different countries were doing different things about migration and there was no unified approach.

He stressed that Malta has to revise its laws to transpose the Reception Conditions Directive by July. Work in this regard was being done by the Ministry of Home Affairs. Malta also needed to amend its laws in line with judgement of the European Court of Human Rights. The Equal Opportunities Ministry was also working on a Comprehensive Integration Policy Framework.

Malta, he said, had already done a lot to deal with migrants and he wished to acknowledge the work done by the AFM, who have rescued 14,000 migrants at sea.

Lives, he said, were continuing to be lost at sea. Some 3,500 people are believed to have died at sea last year, but media fatigue meant this tragedy was not being given enough importance.

The UNHCR, he said, acknowledged security concerns expressed by the government. There were some circumstances which merited detention, but in that case detention facilities had to be of the required standard.

Unfortunately the way the detention centres were set up created a tense environment and an environment that was not conductive to addressing problems and identifying individuals who need special care.

It was true that the number of arrivals in Malta was higher than the country could integrate. However, integration was important and necessary and it would benefit Maltese society as well.

 Mr Hoisaeter said, however, that most migrants did not intend to come here and the refugee community itself was in many cases not focused on the integration process. That was compounded by problems of racism and discrimination.

However it was not all bad news. More migrants were moving out from the open centres and settling in communities.

As for planning for future scenarios, the situation in Libya was of great concern. The country was fragmented and close to a failed state scenario. The UNHCR was concerned about the potential of population movements from Libya.

He did not wish to be alarmist, he said, but the UNHCR wished to help the Maltese government in planning for potential future scenarios such as massive movements across the sea as the worsening situation in Libya led to more people leaving that country - not just third country nationals in Libya, but also Libyans.

This was something which needed to be high on everyone’s agenda and Malta should also be discussing what support it could receive from the EU and what it could plan, with Italy, for example.

“We need to be ready  for a potentially difficult year, a potential year of record arrivals in Malta. I am not being alarmist, I am not saying this is necessarily the most likely outcome, but it is something we should discuss now, not in the summer when the focus will be on the immediate response, not planning,” he said.

Questioned on the Dublin II Treaty, he said the position of the UNHCR was that Dublin II was not good in facilitating solidarity between states and sharing responsibility. There was space within that framework for states to agree on shared mechanism. Unfortunately, however, that was done only to a small degree. The UNHCR was making suggestions on arrangements which countries could adopt.

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