Malta under fire over migrant repatriation
Malta lacks any sort of training or specific guidelines for the effective monitoring of the process through which irregular migrants are repatriated, according to the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights.
The Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) had published a report on the monitoring of a return flight in 2012, commenting on issues such as escort staff’s use of restraints and the need for a “fit to fly certificate”.
According to FRA, Malta should apply European guidelines and monitoring tools, including by the CPT, which is increasingly focusing on forced returns.
In 2008, the Return Directive was adopted by the EU, providing for clear rules for the return and removal of migrants and the use of coercive measures while fully respecting the human rights and fundamental freedoms of those concerned.
Third-country nationals who do not fulfil the conditions for entering or staying in the EU receive a return decision, which the authorities may enforce if it is not complied with voluntarily.
The implementation of a return decision must respect the principle of non-refoulement and take due account of the best interests of the child, family life and third-country nationals’ health status.
Once the Return Directive was adopted, almost all EU member states needed to amend their national legislation and adapt their practice to the new rule. However, such changes are “taking much longer than initially envisaged, given that the deadline to transpose the directive expired in December 2010”.
In 2013, a number of countries established a legal basis for return monitoring. Bulgaria and Poland, for instance, made changes to allow the Ombudsman and representatives of national or international NGOs to observe the process of forced return.
FRA noted that Malta, however, merely extended the remit of the Board of Visitors of Detained Persons to monitoring “proceedings relating to the involuntary return”, thereby granting the board a “wide yet unspecified scope of action”.
In addition, Malta does not have a system in place which had a return flight accompanied by observers, either systematically or occasionally. Malta also does not publish the observers’ findings, not even in part.
The island is also mentioned as one of the EU countries that need to adopt a more proactive approach towards combating human trafficking for labour exploitation. At the moment, the key focus in most member states was on trafficking for sexual exploitation, FRA pointed out. This should shift to clearly include trafficking for labour exploitation and provide support to those who are victimised, in line with EU legislation.
“In some of the countries evaluated, victims of trafficking appear to be treated first and foremost as irregular migrants rather than victims in need of specific assistance and protection as guaranteed by the Convention [on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings].”
“The absence of effective regulation of certain labour market segments is one of the factors that help to create an environment in which it is possible and profitable to use trafficked labour.”
FRA noted that throughout 2013, most member states took positive steps to strengthen national legislation to tackle human trafficking and labour exploitation and provide support to those who were victimised.
It said Malta introduced amendments to the Criminal Code to raise fines and prison terms with the aim of deterring potential trafficking offenders. However, despite considerable efforts to identify and investigate cases of human trafficking across the EU, few victims are identified while prosecution and conviction rates are low, raising concern across member states.