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New rights for immigrants

Directive aimed at helping immigrants to integrate

Refugees and immigrants granted humanitarian status will acquire new residence rights after living in an EU country for five years, under legislation approved by the bloc but stridently opposed by Malta.

The directive, which will enter into force in two years’ time, will give hundreds of refugees and other sub-Saharan Africans in Malta a raft of new rights equal to those granted to non-EU citizens who come to live here legally.

They include equality of treatment with Maltese citizens in a wide range of economic and social areas, including free education, access to the labour market without the need of work permits and social security benefits.

At the same time, however, the immigrants will also acquire the right of freedom of movement and to reside in another EU member state. It means those stuck in Malta with nowhere to go can start moving freely around the EU and decide to take up residence together with their families in another member state. The legislation was approved by the majority of member states. Malta strongly objected due to what it considers an already heavy migration burden and voted against.

After the vote, it declared its disappointment that “the directive will render heavier the pressure Malta is under due to the number of beneficiaries of international protection present on the island combined with Malta’s limited absorption capacity”.

In 2008, when the proposal first came before Justice and Home Affairs Ministers, Malta had managed to block it single-handedly as the legislation needed unanimity to be approved. Arguing it would put the island under immense migration pressure, it had proposed bringing in the rules in 2018 or applying them on a voluntary basis but these proposals had been rejected by other member states.

Following the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, migration issues only need a qualified majority to be approved and single member states can no longer veto legislation in this area.

Beneficiaries of the new rules will have to have lived in the country under international protection for five years. It is a known fact that many of those from Africa who enjoy protection status did not intend coming to the island but had aimed to reach France, Germany and other northern member states. This directive will give them another opportunity to do so.

A Commission official said yesterday the aim of the extension was to help in the integration of refugees and beneficiaries of international protection.

Malta’s declaration

Malta:

Regrets that the proposal for a directive of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Directive 2003/109/EC to extend its scope to beneficiaries of international protection does not take its difficulties into account. The directive will render heavier the pressure Malta is under due to the number of beneficiaries of international protection present on the island combined with Malta’s limited absorption capacity.

Makes particular reference to the explanatory statement of the report of the European Parliament on this proposal, which notes that this proposal may have the effect of exacerbating the pressure to which member states that host a disproportionate number of beneficiaries of international protection are subjected, due in particular to their geographical or demographic situation. The explanatory statement further stresses that the provisions of the directive should be applied in such a way as to facilitate the exercise of the right of beneficiaries of international protection who enjoy long-term resident status in a member state facing such disproportionate pressures to reside in a member state other than the one which granted them international protection.

Calls on the member states to take up this recommendation and to facilitate the movement of beneficiaries of international protection from Malta once they have acquired long-term residence status there with a view to mitigating the negative effects that would otherwise derive from the implementation of this directive.

Reiterates its call for greater solidarity through the intra-EU relocation of beneficiaries of international protection, as called for by the European Pact on Immigration and Asylum and reaffirmed by the Council conclusions, endorsed by the European Council, on June 17, 2010.

Recalls that the European Union’s immigration and asylum policy must be governed by the principle of solidarity and fair sharing of responsibility in accordance with article 80 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) and declares that the proposal fails to incorporate measures to implement this principle in spite of the fact it is the first instrument to be adopted in the establishment of the Common European Asylum System (CEAS).

Augurs that the other instruments to be adopted in the context of the CEAS fully respect the principle enshrined in article 80 TFEU and that the qualified majority voting regime is applied in line with this overarching principle.

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