Access to asylum must be ensured – UNHCR

Early this morning 102 men, women and children were rescued and brought to Malta by the Armed Forces of Malta.

UNHCR has today visited part of this group, all Somali nationals, at the Lyster detention centre. Several individuals confirmed to UNHCR their wish and intention to apply for asylum.

This afternoon, UNHCR Malta requested access to the rest of the group, currently held at the Police Headquarters in Floriana. The UNHCR Representative approached the Police Headquarters this afternoon, but so far access was not granted.

UNHCR had expected such access in view of the formal agreement with the Government of Malta which has undertaken “to grant UNHCR personnel an unimpeded access to refugees and other persons of concern to UNHCR”. UNHCR’s access to asylum seekers is also prescribed in terms of Maltese refugee and immigration legislation.

We note that the European Court of Human Rights has this afternoon granted an interim measure under Rule 39, effectively preventing the deportation of the people who arrived on the boat in Malta this morning. The purpose of Rule 39 measures is to allow time for further assessment in cases where people facing deportation may be facing serious and irreversible harm.

UNHCR Malta reiterates that given the current situation in Libya, forced return or push-back of asylum seekers is not an option, as this would constitute a breach of international law.

“The asylum issue is not one that can be solved in one action, no matter how determined. And it is also not a question of either-or approaches. Rather it is about building on what has already been achieved, working in multiple directions towards long term solutions both in Malta and in other countries,” Jon Hoisaeter, UNHCR Representative to Malta.