Auditor General, Mr Charles Deguara, presented the performance audit Report highlighted in caption to the Honourable Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Hon. Anglu Farrugia. This audit traced the efficacy of the international protection process, specifically the operations and outputs of the reception and detention process, the situation within the open centres, the work carried out by the former Office of the Refugee Commissioner (RefCom), now the International Protection Agency, and the Refugee Appeals Board (RAB) now known as the International Protection Appeals Tribunal. Government expenditure relating to the international protection process amounted to nearly €26 million in 2019 where nearly €2 million pertained to EU funding. Unless otherwise stated, this Report primarily focuses on the period 2018-2019.

Over the years subsequent administrations substantially increased resources to address irregular migration. Nonetheless the high influx of persons seeking international protection, particularly during 2019, severely impacted all aspects of the asylum process.

Within this context, the detention period of persons arriving irregularly in Malta and seeking asylum was rendered more taxing as the detention centres were overcrowded, poorly maintained and subject to significant staff shortages. Matters were further exacerbated by the lack of Information Technology systems and record keeping weaknesses.

Open centres managed by the Agency for the Welfare of Asylum Seekers (AWAS) were operating at, or close to, capacity. Further to the resulting overcrowding, these centres required more administrative and other professional staff to provide a better level of service to residents.

During 2019, the former RefCom received 4,022 new applications, approximately twice as many applications as in 2018. As at end 2019, the total number of outstanding applications for international protection stood at 3,574, including over 800 from previous years. In a few instances, outstanding applications dated back to 2016. During 2019, the number of outstanding appeals to be processed by the former RAB stood at 668.

Under Maltese law, unsuccessful applicants for international protection are served with a return decision which is usually followed up by a removal order. Maltese entities face several challenges to effect a return, such as refusal by the receiving state’s authorities to provide positive identification and documentation. Matters become more complicated by the lack of consular representation in many third countries and the lack of direct flights. This Office acknowledges the recent successful efforts by national authorities to relocate asylum seekers.

Irregular migration is one of the most complicated issues that societies around the world always have had to face. Nonetheless, this audit clearly shows that Malta, as the smallest European Union (EU) Member State, is carrying a disproportionate burden due to the relatively high number of irregular migrants arriving on its shores. Malta’s national entities will continue to struggle to cope without the tangible and material support of other EU Member States. It is high time that international solidarity, through a fair and practical process of burden-sharing, moves from words and declarations to action.

The Report proposes a number of recommendations aimed at strategic and operational levels.

To view report (.PDF) please follow link.