Migrants (2006 – 2013)

Migrants from Sub-Saharan Africa in search of a better life in Europe land in Malta, the European Union’s frontier country. The phenomenon of boatloads of irregular immigrants reaching the island of 400,000 inhabitants started at the same time that Malta joined the EU in 2004, prompting widespread racist and xenophobic responses, despite the plight of many of them fleeing persecution. Most of the migrants leave from Libya on overloaded boats captained by people who are unfamiliar with seafaring, although they pay hundreds of Euros for the trip. Tragedies of people drowning on the way hit the headlines regularly, and many more are believed to go unreported.

Maltese rescuers are often called to assist seafaring migrants in difficulties mainly because of the rough seas, lost coordinates or running out of fuel. Upon their landing, migrants are greeted by detention services officers who submit them to medical tests and escort them to detention centres, from where some apply for refugee status. Those who do not qualify as refugees according to UNHCR criteria are granted temporary humanitarian protection until they are repatriated. Malta insists the problem affects all European countries and as such should be tackled comprehensively by the EU.