The Council of Europe’s Commission Against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) has published its conclusions on Malta’s implementation of priority recommendations made in 2018 on establishing a mechanism for collecting data on hate crime incidents and hate speech, and regularising the country’s stand on residency for irregular migrants who cannot be allowing returned to their country of origin.
While Malta has, on paper, satisfied the recommendation relating to hate crimes and hate speech, in practice it leaves more to be desired. The second recommendation still remains unaddressed and therefore not implemented.
The Council of Europe’s anti-racism commission is focused on human rights, in particular racism, discrimination, xenophobia, antisemitism, and intolerance throughout its Member States.
In 2018, ECRI “strongly reiterated” the recommendation that a system is created so that data collection processes on hate crime incidents, including hate speech, are put in place. It defined hate speech as that targeting individuals on the basis of race, colour, language, religion, ethnic origin, citizenship, sexual orientation and gender identity. It should also record the specific bias motivation as well as the criminal justice response. The data should also be made public.
In 2020, the Maltese government told ECRI that the number of hate crimes in the country was so low that they didn’t need a special mechanism and that all data could be collected and processed manually. The government said it would increase the capabilities of the police if the number of hate crimes increased.
In 2019, the Hate Crime and Speech Unit was established. The government told ECRI that it “addresses issues of hate speech and hate time in Malta, and supports victims through the provision of free therapeutic and legal services.”
The government also said it compiles statistics and processes cases of hate crime and hate speech reported to the unit.
The authorities informed ECRI that as of 19 January 2021, the unit had received some 249 reports filed against 193 alleged perpetrators.
On 1 February 2021, The Shift had sent questions to the unit and to the police, asking how many cases were prosecuted in 2019 and 2020, and how many resulted in convictions.
They responded on 17 February, stating that the police had prosecuted six cases in 2019 and 34 cases in 2020. They said, “10 cases were decided by the court while the other cases are still sub-judice”.
Despite the need to make information public, the unit’s website doesn’t display any statistics, information on the motivation for cases, or details of prosections. Furthermore, the online tool for requesting information was not working.
Nevertheless, ECRI states that this priority recommendation has been fully implemented. Yet it makes it clear the second recommendation has not been implemented.
In the 2018 report, they strongly recommended that “authorities continue to allow persons who cannot be returned to their country, to stay legally in Malta and for those that have resided in Malta for more than 10 years, the authorities should consider a more permanent form of regularisation.”
ECRI noted: “The Maltese authorities do not plan to offer any form of permanent residence to irregular migrants, regardless of whether they are in possession of a temporary residence permit or not.”
Their conclusion noted that Malta is an “exposed frontline State” in relation to refugee flows and that its limited population size may make it more difficult to accommodate failed asylum seekers.
The Commission adds that existing policies are not doing enough to help and support people, or to provide them with any form of permanent regularisation “despite having resided for many years in Malta.”