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Refugee Commission
37/39
Rue D'Argens
Msida
 
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2125 5257
 
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The Office of the Refugee Commissioner

 

     The Refugee Commissioner
 
Mr. Mario Guido Friggieri was appointed Refugee Commissioner on the 28th June, 2007. He succeeded Mr Charles Buttigieg who was the first Maltese Refugee Commissioner, since the 1st January, 2002.
 
Mr Friggieri was born on the 5th December, 1951. He studied at St Aloysius College, from 1962 to 1968 after attending the Balzan/Lija Government Primary School. He joined the Jesuit Order in 1968. During the thirty years that he was a Jesuit, he studied in Italy and Belgium and his other studies and work entailed stays in other countries such as the United Kingdom, India and Libya. In Malta, he was a teacher at the St Philip Neri School (for children with special social problems), and at St Aloysius College itself, where he was a teacher for many years, a member of the Administration and also in charge of various responsibilities (Theatre, Publications, CYLO, sports, extra-curricular activities and others). He was also manager of Mount St Joseph Retreat House for about six years.
 
From 1999 to 2003, he was Assistant Head at the Sedqa St Maria Rehabilitation Programme. He was then appointed Team Leader for the Family and Psychological Teams. In July 2004 he was entrusted with the setting up of the Refugee Service Area Team within Appogg – the first attempt that had been made up to then to set up a social work group which will address problems encountered by immigrants. In this work, previous work experience with Refugees in both Italy and Belgium proved very useful. 
 
Mr Friggieri is married to Oriola nee Kurti and has two children, Christopher-James and Clarissa-Angela.
 
 
 
 
 
     Background
 
The first ever specific asylum-related legislation that has been enacted in Malta was the Refugees Act 2000, which provided for the establishment of the Office of the Refugee Commissioner and the Refugee Appeals Board.
The Office of the Refugee Commissioner opened its doors on a trial basis on 18 June 2001. Initially, cases continued to be referred to UNHCR for final determination. This went on until the end of 2001. On 13 December 2001, Malta lifted its geographical reservation to the 1951 Geneva Convention. On 1st January 2002 the Office of the Refugee Commissioner became fully operational and started to deal with applications for recognition of refugee status completely on its own.
The Office of the Refugee Commissioner’s main responsibly is to receive process and determine applications for asylum, as stipulated by the Refugees Act, amended in July 2008, and Legal Notice 243 of 2008 (Procedural Standards in Examining Applications for Refugee Status Regulations). This Office is also bound by the obligations assumed by Malta under the 1951 Geneva Convention relating to the status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol, as well as its obligations under Council Directive 2004/83/EC [1] , Council Directive 2005/85/EC [2] and the Dublin Regulation [3].
 
The Office’s fundamental objective is to ensure a totally independent, fair, efficient and swift eligibility determination process while, at the same time, guaranteeing the best quality possible regarding the hearing, analysis and determination of applications.
 
 
 
 
Asylum seekers in accommodation centers may register themselves as such with the Refugee Commissioner by filling a form known as ‘Preliminary Questionnaire’. This form is made available to immigrants in the closed centers concurrently with the relevant information and which is given to them regarding their right to apply for international protection. In 2008, the Office of the Refugee Commissioner has translated the Preliminary Questionnaire in a number of languages to assist immigrants when filling this form. By means of a project funded by the European Refugee Fund, personnel from the Office of the Refugee Commissioner are now providing information to third country nationals about the asylum procedure and informing them of their rights and obligations during the entire process. Potential asylum seekers are also being assisted by interpreters, provided by this Office to fill in adequately their Preliminary Questionnaire. This Office then starts the necessary preparations to list the applicant for an interview.
 
As stipulated by the Refugees Act, the Office of the Refugee Commissioner, would then receive the formal application form for recognition of refugee status and subsequently, this Office holds interviews with applicants. Interviews are conducted by fully trained Office of the Refugee Commissioner personnel with the assistance, where necessary, of freelance interpreters. This process invariably starts with the asylum seeker being reminded of an applicant’s rights and duties according to law, including the right to consult the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Applicants are always provided with all necessary facilities and opportunity to present their case fully, support it with available testimonies and/or documentation, and give adequate explanations for all the reasons submitted in their application.
 
The Office of the Refugee Commissioner implements a single asylum procedure and first examines whether the applicant fulfils the criteria to be recognised as a refugee according to law. In the case of those who are not found eligible for refugee protection, the Office proceeds right-away to a further examination of whether the applicant fulfils the criteria for Subsidiary Protection according to law.
 
The Refugee Commissioner’s eligibility recommendation in each and every case goes to the Minister for Home and Parliamentary Affairs as required by law. Applicants are given a copy of the recommendation, together with a confidential memo with the motivation supporting the recommendation. In the case of a negative recommendation, applicants are also informed of their right to enter an appeal against the recommendation to the Refugee Appeals Board, and the relevant procedure in this regard.
 
 
 
     Levels of Protection
 
The Office of the Refugee Commissioner as stipulated by law, may recommend two types of protection: (a) Refugee Status; and (b) Subsidiary Protection.

Refugee Protection [4] is derived from Malta’s accession to the 1951 Geneva Convention the 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees. It should be noted that reservations made by Malta upon accession to those instruments were all withdrawn by 24 February 2004 (most had already been withdrawn on 13 December 2001).

According to Act 14 of Legal Notice 243 of 2008 a refugee is entitled (a) to remain in Malta with freedom of movement, (b) to be granted, as soon as possible, personal documents, including a residence permit for a period of three years, which shall be renewable; (c) to be given a Convention Travel Document entitling him to leave and return to Malta without the need of a visa (unless he is in custody awaiting judicial proceedings for the commission of a criminal offence, or is serving a term of imprisonment); (d) to have access to employment, social welfare, appropriate accommodation, integration programs, state education and training, and (e) to receive state medical care especially in the case of vulnerable groups of persons. Dependant members of the family of a person granted refugee status, if they are in Malta at the time of the decision or if they join him in Malta, enjoy the same rights and benefits as the refugee so that family unity may be maintained.

Should the Refugee Commissioner decide that the conditions to declare an asylum seeker a refugee are not satisfied, he may recommend to the Minister to grant the applicant, subsidiary protection. This applies to failed asylum seekers, who if returned to their country of origin would face a real risk of suffering serious harm. According to the Refugees Act (Article 17 (1)) the Commissioner shall continue to make this recommendation even in cases where the real risk of suffering serious harm arises after a decision not to grant subsidiary protection has been taken.

The subsidiary protection status was introduced in 2008 after EU Council Directive 2004/83 EC  [5] has been transposed into Maltese Legislation. Previously the Refugees Act provided for temporary humanitarian protection, defined as special leave to remain in Malta for those persons who could not have returned safely to their country of origin.

According to Article 14 (1) (b) of Legal Notice 243 of 2008, a person enjoying subsidiary protection shall be entitled (a) to remain in Malta with freedom of movement and to be granted personal documents, including a residence permit for a period of one year, which shall be renewable; (b) to be provided with documents which enable him to travel especially when serious humanitarian reasons arise that require his presence in another State (unless compelling reasons of national security or public order otherwise require); (c) to have access to employment, subject to labour market considerations, core social welfare benefits, appropriate accommodation, integration programs, State education and training, and to receive core state medical care, especially in the case of vulnerable groups of persons. Dependant members of the family of a person granted subsidiary protection, if they are in Malta at the time of decision, enjoy the same rights and benefits as the person enjoying subsidiary protection status so that family unity may be maintained.

The Office of the Refugee Commissioner has also recommended to the Ministry of Justice and Home Affairs, another regime of protection i.e. Temporary Humanitarian Protection an administrative procedure which is to be granted in special and extraordinary cases where applicants are found not to be eligible for recognition as refugees or beneficiaries of subsidiary protection, but who are nonetheless considered to be in need of protection due to special humanitarian reasons.

From January 2002 until December 2009, the Office of the Refugee Commissioner has concluded 10189 cases involving 10851 persons. Of these 232 where granted refugee status, 5677 were granted humanitarian/subsidiary protection, 4452 were rejected.

From 1st January 2009 until the end of December 2009 the Office of the Refugee Commissioner concluded 2959 cases. Of these 19 were recognized as refugees, 1661 were granted subsidiary protection, 20 were granted temporary humanitarian status, 842 were rejected and 268 were withdrawn, 9 were invalid, 78 abandoned their application, 1 lost contact and 61 were inadmissible. Only 17 applicants were awaiting the start of the procedure by the end of 2009.
 
 
 
     Staff Compliment and Procedural Improvements 
 
The Office of the Refugee Commissioner’s first full year of operation proved to be quite a challenge. When the Office opened its doors, the average number of asylum-seekers in Malta was in the region of 150 per annum. In 2002, more than 1,600 boat-people reached Malta with many of them seeking asylum and since then the number of irregular immigrants who entered Malta and sought international protection continued to increase steadily. In 2008, 2775 persons arrived in Malta as compared to the 1702 persons who entered Malta in 2007. Thus there has been an increase of 1082 (63%) persons in 2008 as compared to 2007, of which 98.78% (2760) applied for asylum. The beginning of 2009 was also marked by a significant increase in the number of irregular immigrants reaching our shores. In fact, up to the first two months of this year, 795 irregular immigrants entered Malta. Throughout the rest of the year, the number of arrivals declined especially when compared to the first two months of 2009 and the arrivals of 2008. Nonetheless, the number of irregular immigrants entering Malta in 2009 reached 1475, 1309 (i.e. 89%) of whom applied for asylum. This Office also received other asylum applications from other TCNs who either contacted this Office personally or otherwise were apprehended by the immigration police because they were not in possession of a valid residence permit.

The road ahead for the Office’s staff, then composed of just five persons in 2002 was definitely up-hill from the very beginning. Steps have been and continue to be taken to increase the staff complement according to exigencies but and ensure continuous training to speed up the refugee status determination process as much as possible while, at the same time, ensuring high quality standards. As of today, the staff complement at the Office of the Refugee Commissioner consists of the Refugee Commissioner, the Assistant Refugee Commissioner, 3 asylum determination officers, 10 asylum determination officers, one head of administration, four clerks, and one auxiliary. The Office of the Refugee Commissioner is currently also employing three other persons who are currently responsible from the ERF project 2009-201. 
 
 

 

 
ERF Project 2009-2011: “Post Application client preparation and asylum determination interviewing centre for asylum seekers which aims to adequately prepare TCNs for their asylum determination process”
 
It can be stated with confidence that the implementation of this project marked a change in the Maltese asylum history. This is because through this project, there has been a drastic change in how asylum seekers register their desire to apply for international protection in Malta. Whereas in the previous years asylum seekers were given a translated copy of the first registration form and were expected to fill it in themselves, this Office is now offering individual assistance to each and every asylum seeker. To this effect interpreters and personnel from the Office of the Refugee Commissioner are assisting asylum seekers in filling in this registration form by which they register their desire to apply for international protection. Personnel from this Office, with the help of interpreters are also giving information sessions to potential asylum seekers as soon as they enter Malta, informing them of their rights and obligations if they desire to apply for asylum.
 
This process will be further improved in the coming months, because this Office has prepared an informative audio visual production as well as notepads containing information about the asylum procedure in Malta and which will be presented to all asylum seekers as soon as they register their desire to apply for international protection.
 
Through this project, the Office of the Refugee Commissioner will be also able to provide continuous training to interpreters which will focus on both the technical and the linguistic competencies. In this regard advanced and technical English language classes are currently being held. These classes as well as other training seminars will continue to be organized throughout 2010.
 
Asylum determination officers will be also benefiting from additional training seminars, which will be organized after a training need analysis by the management will be carried out. This will ensure that the training seminars will not focus on basic skills but on a more advanced competencies, since most of the asylum determination officers at the Office of the Refugee Commissioner have already acquired high levels of expertise.
 
 
The Emergency Measures Project (ERF August 2009- January 2010)
 
This project aimed to strengthen the existing asylum infrastructure especially when considering (a) the increasing number of irregular immigrants throughout these last years; (b) the increasing number of asylum applications; (c) the increase in the number of persons arriving on the same boat and (d) this Office’s commitment to conclude cases within six months from the day of arrival.
 
Through this project the Office of the Refugee Commissioner employed 10 asylum determination officers and a project manager on a service based contract to examine the pending asylum applications, hence enabling this Office to fulfill its fundamental objective of ensuring a fair and an efficient asylum procedure within the first six months of the immigrants’ arrival in Malta. It must be noted that from 1st March 2007 until 28th February 2008, 1726 irregular immigrants entered Malta, whereas between 1st March 2008 until 28th February 2009, 3489 immigrants entered Malta. Thus, despite the genuine efforts made by this Office to conclude the asylum determination process as efficiently as possible; the increasing number of irregular immigrants throughout 2008 and 2009 has led to an additional amount of 1800 cases.
 
Through this project the Office of the Refugee Commissioner has also extended the current premises by investing in mobile offices. With the use of the new office space, this Office now has 12 properly equipped interviewing rooms in the different centers. Moreover since these Offices will be used by staff of the Refugee Commissioner they will be furnished and equipped to cater for the special needs of an asylum determining office, making the place better suited for the asylum interview.
 
The GDISC [6] project
 
The GDISC Pilot Project on Particular Pressures in Malta funded by the European Refugee Fund Community Actions 2008 depicted an example of direct practical cooperation between Immigration services of the GDISC network. This Pilot Project was set up by the GDISC High Level Working Group on Particular Pressures, consisting of: Belgium, Czech Republic, Finland, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Sweden and the United Kingdom. The Office of the Refugee Commissioner participated as a beneficiary in this project. Throughout 2009 the Office of the Refugee Commissioner was offered the possibility of 10 linguistic analysis sponsored by the Dutch authorities and 50 linguistic analysis sponsored by the UK authorities.

 

Two Dutch experts also delivered a series of workshops which focused on both theoretical and practical aspects in the field of documentation analysis and civil status documents. Access to “DISCS”, a database which contains a collection of worldwide documents has been granted to the Office of the Refugee Commissioner. This database contains specimens of civil status documents, which would help this Office to compare documents received with the specimens.
 
 
 
 
Please view the resources attached to this page.
 
 
 
     Other Work
 
With the support of the Ministry of Justice and Home Affairs the Office of the Refugee Commissioner has throughout 2009 increased its participation in various conferences at EU level which has also helped this Office to discuss and share best practices with other Member States.
The Office of the Refugee Commissioner under its own initiative has actively participated in the resettlement exercise to the USA by formulating a statistical database, which will be also used for the relocation pilot project within the EU. This Office has also assisted other entities in the preparation of the related documents for this exercise. 
 
 
 
     Conclusion
 
In conclusion, the Office of the Refugee Commissioner has throughout the years, adopted a number of strategies to increase its’ efficiency, despite the increasing numbers of applications for international protection throughout the years. Nonetheless, this Office is committed to maintain its solid work, ensuring a sound decision making procedure and building an efficient process which ensures and safeguards guarantees for genuine beneficiaries of international protection throughout the asylum procedure. 
[1] On minimum standards for the qualification and status of third country nationals or stateless persons as refugees or as persons who otherwise need international protection and the content of the protection granted.
[2] On minimum standards for the qualification and status of third country nationals or stateless persons as refugees or as persons who otherwise need international protection and the content of the protection granted.
[3] On establishing the criteria and mechanisms for determining the member state responsible for examining an application for international protection lodged in one of the member states by a third country national or a stateless person.
[4] A refugee is defined as ‘a person who, owing to a well founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence, as a result of such events is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it’. 
[5] On minimum standards for the qualification and status of third country nationals or stateless persons as refugees or as persons who otherwise need international protection and the content of the protection granted.

[6] General Directors’ Immigration Services Conference.