back to the Immigration Detention Monitor

13 April 2020 – Malta

As the country ramped up its response to the coronavirus pandemic in mid-March, the country’s Economy Minister announced that all foreign workers laid off during the pandemic would have to be deported from the country. Although he later apologised for the comments, explaining that “choice of words was unfortunate,” he has continued to face significant criticism.

On 19 March, Aditus issued a statement urging authorities to extend the residence permits of all foreigners, irrespective of their employment status; seek measures to provide housing to those made homeless; refrain from imposing entry bans on migrants made redundant during the pandemic; and to reconsider the use of detention. “Any public health measure must consider all community members,” the group stated, “including migrants and other persons who are vulnerable or marginalised.”

Malta has long been at the centre of a divisive debate in Europe regarding search and rescue operations in the Mediterannean and has repeatedly refused to permit rescue boats to dock and disembark in the country’s ports. On 9 April, authorities took further action when they announced that the country would not accept any future disembarkations from rescue boats. According to the government, this step was necessary in light of anti-epidemic measures stretching the country’s resources and the risk that refugees and migrants may bring the virus with them. In a statement to the European Commission explaining their action, authorities wrote, “Malta is not in a position to offer a safe place for these immigrants, especially at a time of great challenges in the health sector, and law enforcement. The situation today calls for all local resources, including the Armed Forces, to be focused on the fight against the spread of the coronavirus.”

Critics argue, however, that Maltese authorities are using the crisis to further shelve their obligations to protect those in need. As a group of 16 NGOs stated, “We fear that Malta is exploiting the public health emergency to deprive migrants of their human dignity, adopting measures veiled as public health protection but having the effect of sacrificing migrants for Malta’s safety.” Over 300 academics also slammed the government’s decision in a joint statement in which they called on EU member states to rescue migrants and assume joint responsibility for them, “The decision to close ports is unlawful. The absence of solidarity between the Member States in meeting their collective moral and legal obligations is reprehensible.”The NGO AlarmPhone, meanwhile, has reported that Maltese military personnel attacked migrants at sea on 9 April and purposefully sabotaged the boat – which to-date, the Prime Minister’s office has failed to deny.