Concerns over Malta’s treatment of migrants in latest UN human rights review

The latest Universal Periodic Review (UPR) by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) expressed several ‘serious concerns’ about Malta’s treatment of migrants, including delays in rescue at sea, disembarkation and the treatment of unaccompanied minors.

Every four and a half years, the 193 UN member states rotate through an interactive review of their human rights situation in a bid to improve human rights worldwide.

The Country Report for Malta of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) at the United Nations Human Rights Council 45th Session (UN HRC45) pinpoints the country’s need to address concerns by aligning its legal framework with international human rights standards, protecting vulnerable groups, and improving mechanisms for promoting and safeguarding human rights within the nation.

Recommendations include modifying Malta’s Constitution to make it consistent with international human rights norms, particularly regarding people with disabilities and enhancing institutional transparency and autonomy in organisations like the Office of the Commissioner for Children and the Commission for the Rights of Persons with Disability.

The report also takes stock of the treatment of migrants in Malta, noting delays in rescuing them at sea and disembarking them in the nearest place of safety. The report also highlights concerns over the guardianship system for unaccompanied children, which lacks adequate resources and independence.

Additionally, the regulations that permit unaccompanied children aged 16 years or over to be placed in adult accommodation centres are noted with concern. The report also states how the lack of legal regulation for temporary humanitarian protection status for unaccompanied children poses challenges to their legal status and protection.

According to the report, the Maltese authorities should implement a protocol that involves multiple disciplines for determining individuals’ ages. Competent guardians should be assigned to unaccompanied children, and non-refoulement principles should be fully respected.

Furthermore, the report suggests that the detention of migrant and asylum-seeking children should be prohibited by law, and sustainable resettlement options should be adopted for refugees. Lastly, policies for the humanitarian protection of unaccompanied children should be transformed into law.

The UN further recommends that Malta ratify international conventions such as the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.

The concerns raised by the OHCHR are timely, especially considering recent reports that Malta was part of a group of EU member states lobbying for amendments to a package of EU-wide migration laws which could allow the imprisonment of child migrants at borders from birth and reduce protections for unaccompanied children.

An investigation by the journalism cooperative Investigate Europe found that Malta, France, the Netherlands, Denmark, Czechia and others called for the introduction of stricter rules in the EU’s Migration and Asylum Pact.

Meeting minutes obtained by Investigate Europe from EU Committee of Representatives (COREPER) discussions on the pact show how, in May 2023, representatives from Malta, France, the Netherlands, Denmark and Czechia welcomed the abolishment of age limits for imprisoned persons.

Malta said excluding minors from being imprisoned would be “impracticable,” as it would lead to persons abusing the limit, falsely claiming to be minors.

To date, unaccompanied children cannot be legally imprisoned, yet member states often employ the practice. These include Malta, whose detention system has been regularly found to breach human rights.

The Universal Periodic Review and additional documentation can be found here.


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