Throughout the years, Malta has received a number of asylum applications from persons who were rescued at sea and subsequently disembarked on the island.
The vast majority of those persons were granted a form of international protection from return to their country of origin.
Some applicants whose claims were rejected were later granted a form of regularized stay referred to as THPN (Temporary Humanitarian Protection (N)). UNHCR is informed that the granting of THPN was at the sole discretion of the Refugee Commissioner.
Persons who are found not to be in need of international protection, after due consideration of their claim, generally fall outside UNHCR’s mandate. That said, a functioning migration management system is one which also provides outcomes for persons who are not refugees or beneficiaries of international protection. Effective return policies and practices for persons who are not refugees are essential in maintaining credible asylum systems and to prevent onward movement.
Malta has, over the years, rightly developed capacity and allocated resources for its asylum procedure, which remains however only partly efficient due to some deficiencies in the second instance procedure. UNHCR, in its supervisory role on the application of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, has noted that the second instance body, the Refugee Appeals Board, is in need of reform.
UNHCR is aware of a number of cases where persons were in need of international protection on grounds of persecution in their country of origin and, to this day, have not been properly identified and recognized as such by the Maltese authorities. Some of these persons were given THPN, a form of regularized stay in Malta.
UNHCR has intervened in some cases of individuals who it considered to be refugees but who were not granted a form of international protection, or who were later granted THPN. In this context, UNHCR urges the Maltese authorities to exercise caution when effecting returns as some persons may still be at risk of persecution and other serious human rights violations.
Regardless of status, any return to one’s country of origin should take place in safety and in dignity, in line with international and European human rights standards. In this respect, UNHCR urges the authorities to consider voluntary return options for persons who are found to not be in need of international protection and to organize information campaigns on return options. UNHCR also urges the authorities to initiate a dialogue with relevant civil society organizations on the review of THPN status.
Within a broader context, UNHCR urges the authorities to conduct a review of the Refugee Appeals Board mechanism, in particular the need to establish a body which is able to work on a full-time basis with more persons who have a professional expertise in matters relating to refugee law and refugee status determination. Any credible asylum system needs to have appropriate safeguards and oversight in order to ensure that those persons who are in need of international protection are not at risk of return to their country of origin.
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