When two separate events were held in Malta on the future of children moving within and towards Europe last month, the island state’s Jekyll and Hyde approach to refugee rights truly came to the surface.
Maltese Interior Minister Carmelo Abela showed the positives of Maltese refugee policy during the Lost in Migration conference, organised by Missing Children Europe. The event was arranged to draw up recommendations on how best to protect children from disappearing when travelling towards and within the EU, and was attended by members of the Destination Unknown campaign.
“We’re doing a lot to protect migrant children from disappearing, but we need to do even more,” Mr Abela said, seeming to support stronger protection for child refugees and migrants. This optimism grew even further when Mr Abela stated Malta had stopped detaining child refugees and migrants on arrival.
Yet all was not as it seemed.
The same day Mr Abela declared how Malta was willing to do more to protect child refugees, national media reported how the current Maltese Council of the EU Presidency was exploring ways of returning migrants and refugees who attempted to enter Europe back to Libya.
This flies in the face of international law. Deliberately returning people back to a location where they are at risk of murder, rape, torture and abuse breaks the international principle of non-refoulement – which states that countries cannot return people to places where their human rights are at risk of violation.
Malta’s claim to have stopped detaining child refugees also does not hold up to scrutiny.
UNHCR Malta have stated that a newly created ‘initial reception centre’ is detaining children for up to 14 days for health screening and to make assessments of their age. The centre was supposed to only detain adults, but is now housing both families and unaccompanied minors too.
Terre des Hommes strongly supports the 17 recommendations produced at the Lost in Migration conference, which would put an end to both the cruel and inhumane detention of children within Europe, and the possibility of them being sent back into danger by two-faced European migration policies.
The recommendations were drafted and endorsed together with over 45 child rights organisations. They include improving accommodation and reception conditions, ensuring access to trained guardians for children and the right for children to be heard and informed.
These conclusions will be shared with EU and national politicians, European Commissioners and Heads of State, and policies will be monitored over the next year to see if progress is made to protect children in line with these recommendations.
Kopin, the Swiss Foundation of International Social Services and Terre des Hommes – together with other NGOs present at the conference – urge EU Member States to offer durable solutions to refugee children. These solutions must put the child first, take their voices into consideration and seek to reunite unaccompanied children with their families or other caregivers whenever it is possible.