July 18, 2012


This report addresses the treatment of migrants, including unaccompanied children, in Malta, focusing on migrants who travel to Malta by boat and either arrive on shore themselves or are intercepted by the Armed Forces of Malta at sea and brought to Malta. It does not address migrants who enter Malta by plane, because they are not typically detained in the same manner or with the same degree of regularity as those who arrive by boat. In this report, the term “migrant” can refer to asylum seekers and people in need of international protection, as well as to economic migrants.

Research was carried out in Malta between February and May 2012. Eighty-eight migrants and asylum seekers between the ages of 10 and 67 were interviewed. Sixteen of the interviewees were female. Twenty-one migrants were, according to their accounts, unaccompanied children at the time of their entry into Malta. Eight were still children when we interviewed them, and the other thirteen were adults. Two reported entering Malta below the age of 16, and the rest were 16 or 17 years old when they entered the country.

Approximately 35 percent of our interviewees were from Somalia, 10 percent from Nigeria, 10 percent from Eritrea, 9 percent from Ethiopia, 9 percent from Ghana, and 9 percent from Ivory Coast. The rest were from Egypt and sub-Saharan African countries including Chad, Guinea, Mali, and Togo.

We conducted most interviews in English or French, and other interviews with the help of interpreters in a language in which the migrant was comfortable (such as Arabic and Somali). We interviewed migrants and asylum seekers in three separate detention facilities (Hermes Block, Safi Warehouse, and Safi B Block), in and around open centers, and in various locations around Malta. We explained to all interviewees the nature of our research and our intentions concerning the information gathered through our interviews, and we obtained verbal consent from each interviewee.

In Malta, Human Rights Watch researchers met a number of government officials concerned with migration, including the Refugee Commissioner, the Children’s Commissioner, and officials with the Agency for the Welfare of Asylum Seekers, the Malta Police, the Detention Service, the Children and Young Persons Advisory Board, the Office of the Children’s Commissioner, and the Ministry of Justice and the Family. In addition, we met with representatives from the Maltese offices of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the European Asylum Support Office, and the International Organization of Migration, as well as staff members of nongovernmental organizations, and human rights lawyers and activists.

All names of migrants interviewed have been replaced by pseudonyms to protect their identity. In some cases we also withhold the migrant’s country of origin, or precise details of the migrant’s case, in order to avoid the possibility of identifying the individual. Likewise, many staff members of NGOs in Malta are not identified by name at their request.

In line with international instruments, the term “child” refers to a person under the age of 18.[4] For the purposes of this report, we use the term “unaccompanied child” to describe both unaccompanied and separated children as defined by the Committee on the Rights of the Child:

“Unaccompanied children” are children, as defined in article 1 of the Convention, who have been separated from both parents and other relatives and are not being cared for by an adult who, by law or custom, is responsible for doing so. “Separated children” are children, as defined in article 1 of the Convention, who have been separated from both parents, or from their previous legal or customary primary caregiver, but not necessarily from other relatives. These may, therefore, include children accompanied by other adult family members.[5]

In this report, Human Rights Watch does not assess whether the migrants we spoke to qualify for refugee status or other forms of protection. Some, perhaps many, undoubtedly do—and indeed, the Maltese government grants asylum or other forms of protection at relatively high rates compared to other EU border countries.[6] This report instead focuses on how the Maltese government fails to uphold migrants’ human rights, regardless of whether or not those migrants have legitimate asylum claims or other protection needs, and how Malta’s policies should be improved.


[4]Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), adopted November 20, 1989, GA Res. 44/25, annex, 44 UN GAOR Supp. (No. 49) at 167, UN Doc. A/44/49 (1989), entered into force September 2, 1990, ratified by Malta on September 30, 1990, art. 1.

[5]UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, “Treatment of Unaccompanied and Separated Children Outside their Country of Origin,” General Comment NO. 6, UN Doc. CRC/GC/2005/6 (2005), paras. 7-8.

[6] Malta has a 58 percent rate of recognition for some form of protected status (though not necessarily asylum), considerably higher than the EU average of 25 percent. See European Commission (EUROSTAT), “Asylum Statistics,” data from September 2011, http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/statistics_explained/index.php/Asylum_statistics (accessed June 7, 2012).