Just 30 per cent of the 16,617 asylum seekers and irregular migrants who came to Malta by boat since 2002 remained on the island, the UN’s refugee office here has estimated.

UNHCR spokesman Fabrizio Ellul acknowledged it was not easy to arrive at a definite figure of how many were still present in Malta, as many beneficiaries of protection applied for documents to travel within the EU.

In line with the objectives of the Dublin II framework, some of these were returned from other European countries to Malta as the first country where they sought asylum.

Among those still here, 1,752 were living in open centres in 2012.

UNHCR Malta also derived its estimate from its database of beneficiaries of protection living in the community, which it keeps so that they can register for possible support.

“From this information we can make a very general estimate that there are not many more than 5,000 individuals who are still living in Malta after arriving here by boat as asylum seekers,” Mr Ellul said.

“This estimate is also in line with numbers presented by the relevant Maltese authorities in recent years.”

A total of 420 refugees were resettled elsewhere last year, according to the UNHCR’s Asylum Trends 2012 report published yesterday.

Of these, 105 went to European countries and 307 to the US. This brings the total number of refugees in Malta resettled elsewhere since 2005 to 1,810.

A further 40 individuals returned home last year through a programme called Assisted Voluntary Return and Sus-tainable Reintegration in the Country of Origin.

Nearly eight in 10 of all asylum seekers who reached Malta last year were granted protection status, yesterday’s report showed.

A further nine per cent were granted provisional or tempo-rary asylum, according to the Asylum Trends 2012 report pub-lished yesterday.

A total of 1,890 people arrived by boat last year, 1,838 of whom applied for asylum. This was the second highest number of annual boat arrivals in 10 years and the most since 2008, when 2,775 arrived.

Mr Ellul said 2012 was of particular interest because it was the first year of post-Gaddafi Libya, from where the vast majority of asylum seekers started their boat journeys.

Despite predictions that instability in Libya could lead to an unprecedented wave of asylum seekers in Malta, Mr Ellul said there was no significant difference in 2012 from the previous 10 years, and the total number of arrivals was well within the average range.

Sixty-six per cent of last year’s arrivals in Malta were men, 20 per cent were women, 12 per cent were boys and two per cent were girls.

Of those granted protection, 86 per cent were from Somalia, with 12 per cent from Eritrea and one per cent from Ethiopia.

Somalis made up 65 per cent of all arrivals by boat, followed by Eritreans (24 per cent).

Mr Ellul said the figures confirmed that sub-Saharan nationals were still at risk in Libya, mainly due to widespread discrimination and abuse.

Asylum seekers arriving in Malta had consistently informed the UNHCR that smuggling networks were changing but continued to operate in Libya and in other countries.

“Last year we heard alarming accounts from sub-Saharan Africans of various nationalities being detained for weeks by militias and other armed individuals before being placed, at times by force, on overcrowded boats for dangerous journeys across the Mediterranean,” he said.

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