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Thursday, June 24, 2004

Illegal immigrants or refugees?

A friend of mine (who knows much more than I do about the way things are with illegal immigrant and refugees) wrote me an email pointing out that things are not as bad as I think they are. She also said that Amnesty International has not done much more than simply criticize Malta in terms of the way refugees and illegal immigrants are dealt with.

To be quite honest, I am somewhat confused about all this. Not only is it hard for me to imagine how things are at detention centres in Malta (did you know that there are others besides the one at Hal Far?), sitting here in New York, but I also wish that things went so well in Malta in this regard that none of this would ever need be reported as news.

Here are some of my friend's comments (loosely translated):

"I imagine that your comments are linked to the controversy over the people who came from Eritrea in 2002. They were allegedly tortured after they were repatriated away from Malta. I doubt whether Amnesty International is really following what's going on now in detail with regards to the investigation and evidence being heard by the law courts. [...] Amnesty International criticised Malta's detention policy more than anything else, and this goes beyond what the Refugee Commission does. The refugee commissioner and the entire commission examines each case on an individual basis and the Eritreans were sent back to their country because they voluntarily didn't want to apply for asylum. UNCHR was not opposing their return and they were actually themselves sending people back. [...] People are detained if they are not granted refugee status. They are also detained whilst they await for their appeal decision. And the Refugee Commission does not get involved in the work of the Appeals Board."

Sounds like bureaucracy at its best to me!

Still, I appreciate that my friend has broadened (or should that be sharpened?) my perception of the way things are with non-European people who land in Malta without any intention of going back to the country they originally came from.

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