Malta can lead, not follow

Today, June 20, is World Refugee Day. We honour the resilience and courage of the record-breaking more than 65 million people who have been forced to flee war, persecution and violence, with the overwhelming majority being hosted in developing countries in their own regions.

But it is also a moment to recognise those communities and people here in Malta and around the world who receive refugees and the internally displaced in their midst, offering them a safe haven, and welcoming them in their schools, workplaces and societies.

Today we live in a world in which uncertainty often abounds; economic instability, political upheaval and violence close to home can make us want to shut our eyes or close our doors. But fear and exclusion will not lead us to a better place – they can only lead to barriers, alienation and despair.

This call is being made worldwide by UNHCR.

Malta can also do its part. For a long time, on some issues of refugee rights, Malta has lagged behind and showed resistance to change. In this Malta can take the lead and work towards finding solutions for individuals. We are putting forward three suggestions on how this can be done.

First: social inclusion will be one of the main challenges for Malta as the country will continue to grow and prosper.

The country’s leadership, as well as civil society, have taken the initiative to promote social inclusion within Maltese society. We applaud this initiative as it requires strength and leadership to do so. Integration is a dynamic two-way process which requires both the individual and society to make considerable efforts.

With the previous administration we had started a constructive discussion regarding an integration policy. We augur that this will continue and that Malta will launch a comprehensive framework that covers the full range of rights and initiatives needed for the inclusion of refugees.

The need for better integration is part of Malta’s new reality. It is a moral and legal imperative as well as it makes social and economic sense so that no individual or group is left behind and can realize one’s full potential.

Second: Malta should take leadership and make further contributions towards promoting legal pathways through regular, managed arrangements as a concrete solution to reduce the demand for people smuggling and irregular sea journeys.

This year over 75,000 people have made the dangerous crossing with some 1,850 people dying at sea. This should not be the case and solutions can be found.

Creating legal pathways should not require reinventing the wheel. Tools already exist. It is about strong political will to implement them.

There are a number of ways on how one can do it, such as through resettlement and humanitarian admission programmes, family reunification, private sponsorship, and student and work visas for refugees.

Through the EU relocation schemes, Malta has so far accepted some 137 asylum seekers from Italy and Greece.

However, Malta needs to address some of the issues that relocated asylum seekers are facing. Best interests of children, as well as long-term solutions for persons for whom Malta has taken responsibility, should be a priority.

Persons granted subsidiary protection still do not have a durable solution in Malta, with limited access to rights, lack of access to family reunification and very limited prospects for naturalisation.

Third: we urge the Maltese government to accede to the statelessness conventions. In the European Union, only four countries are not yet party to any of the statelessness conventions; Malta is one of them.  This is not a club that Malta should aspire to be in for too long. And in this, Malta can lead instead of lagging behind.

Statelessness is a pressing issue for some people who might be without basic rights because they are not recognised as nationals by any state.

We were encouraged by the fact that the previous government had sought to actively adopt “further measures, in addition to those already provided for by the national legislative framework, intended to address situations of statelessness” including “actively considering the possibility to accede to the 1954 Statelessness Convention”.

We do hope that the government honours its commitment to sign the 1954 Statelessness Convention as soon as possible.

So, on World Refugee Day, when we pause to contemplate the fate of the millions of people who cannot return to their homes tonight because of war or persecution, it’s also a moment to ask ourselves what each of us can do to overcome indifference or fear and embrace the idea of inclusion.

Because, when we stand together #WithRefugees, we also stand for respect and diversity for all.


Kahin Ismail is the UNHCR Malta representative

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