Salvator Cusimano
Protection Assistant
Duty Station: Valetta, Malta

I’m addressing the challenge of how to provide information and monitor protection concerns outside of reception centres.

In 2015, a record number of refugees arrived in Greece and Italy by sea, but refugees have since stopped arriving in Malta on boats leaving North Africa. Only 104 people arrived in Malta by sea in 2015, compared to 584 in 2014 and 2,008 in 2013. Nevertheless, the total number of people seeking asylum in Malta has remained relatively steady due to a sharp increase in the number of asylum seekers reaching Malta by regular means – 1,588 in 2015, compared to 824 in 2014 and just 347 in 2013.

This changing trend presents a challenge for UNHCR Malta because the ways in which we normally monitored protection concerns, identified vulnerable people, provided information and counseling, and followed the integration of persons of concern are much less relevant nowadays. When most asylum seekers were arriving by boat, our office would meet, inform, and counsel nearly all of them in detention and in open reception centres. Now, very few asylum seekers pass through reception facilities, meaning that many of them never come into contact with UNHCR. Meanwhile, many persons of concern identify UNHCR Malta as primarily a resettlement agency, even though we work hard to expand access to protection and local integration.

UNHCR’s lack of contact with persons of concern is problematic because our protection monitoring activities outside of the reception system – such as monitoring government statistics, conducting home visits, and holding focus group discussions with refugees – have identified several protection concerns. Additionally, we also find that many persons of concern are not aware of the ways in which UNHCR can advocate for their rights. Furthermore, many newly-arriving persons of concern are not aware of the legal and psychosocial services offered by UNHCR’s partner NGOs.

I want to find a solution to this challenge because doing so will ensure that we can continue working closely with refugees to identify their priorities and to understand how their needs could be better met.