Human rights NGOs have been swamped with calls from employers concerned about changes to migrants’ national protection status that could render hundreds destitute.
The Home Affairs Ministry last week announced it would be halting the Temporary Humanitarian Protection – New status, known as THPn for failed asylum seekers, as from next year.
This is a form of regularisation granted since 2010 to those who “through no fault of their own” cannot be returned to their home country. THPn applicants were required to fulfil criteria such as employment, independent housing and fiscal contributions and would have arrived here before 2008. The rest were classified simply as failed asylum seekers.
According to data obtained by the NGOs, there were nearly 1,000 people with THPn in 2015.
Following a recent review, current THPn statuses will only be renewed until October, 2017, and no new ones will be issued.
Ironically, holders are in the meantime expected to procure all required documentation from their country of origin that would allow them to apply for a residence permit covering their stay in Malta after October 2017.
For 16 NGOs, these plans will affect hundreds, constituting a regression of fundamental human rights for some, and a clear path towards destitution for most.
We don’t think it’s humane to hang the threat of deportation over the heads of people who have been here for several years
The many years they have spent working, forming relationships, paying fiscal contributions and renting homes will be suddenly erased on November 1, 2017.
Hundreds of people will be required to comply with requirements that the ministry knows they are unable to meet, as several countries of origin refuse or are unable to provide these documents, the NGOs said.
A total of 23 human rights NGOs have even drawn a position paper on THPn, clarifying that their recommendations were not for people who consistently attempted to avoid immigration authorities.
Their focus was on people who despite their irregular migration situation, complied with reporting and other obligations.
The people directly impacted by the review have lived and worked in Malta for years – some for as long as 18 years and all for at least nine years. Most are from West African countries and there are a number with families, including children born here.
Aditus director Neil Falzon yesterday told this newspaper that Maltese employers within different sectors, including construction and factory industries, are voicing their concern about news that THPn for failed asylum seekers will be halted.
This was not just a legal and humanitarian issue, but also economic, Dr Falzon noted, and some sectors actually depended on migrant labour.
This was also true for the pension and social security systems in some European countries, which have an ageing population and will increasingly grow dependent on young workers.
News of the THPn review emerged at the same time that 33 men were rounded up by the police and placed in detention last week. The ministry said this arrest was unrelated to the review.
Dr Falzon said that a large number of these 33 people have settled down in Malta as they have been here for several years.
They know Maltese, work regularly, pay NI and tax contributions and lead an independent life. Some have long-term partners. While none of them have THPn, they have a document signed by a police officer every three months.
“In both instances – the halting of the THPn as from next year and the detention of the 33 people – we don’t think it’s humane to hang the threat of deportation over the heads of people who have been here for several years.
“We’re objecting to the government exercising its right to deport failed asylum seekers after they built a life here,” he added.
The 23 NGOs are in fact recommending regularisation for failed asylum seekers, including those with THPn, who cooperate with immigration authorities.
The legal framework should establish clear time limits beyond which non-returnable migrants will no longer be considered as being subject to return procedures. Such time limit should not exceed five years.
Questions sent to the Home Affairs Ministry remained unanswered by the time this newspaper went to print.