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Your Guide to Malta and Gozo - Illegal Immigration

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Illegal Immigration

This has been the subject of much controversy and heated debate, with boatloads of would-be immigrants seeking a better life in Europe reaching Maltese shores. On one extreme is a section of the population, prompted by human compassion and a dose of religious fervour, advocating an open-door policy; on the other hand, the largely uncontrolled influx of African immigrants has spurred a wave of xenophobic hysteria and spawned political movements such as the extreme right Imperium Europa and the moderate Alleanza Nazzjonali.

Many of these immigrants hail from war-torn or famine ravaged countries such as Somalia and Eritrea, often departing from Libyan territory. On reaching Malta, immigrants are screened for disease and placed for an extended period of some 18 months in a closed detention centre. The conditions in such centres have been the subject of criticism by such organizations as Medicins sans Frontiers who claim that these are overcrowded and unhygienic, whilst lacking basic amenities. Immigrants may apply for refugee status or humanitarian protection.

Malta has in recent times been at loggerheads with neighbouring Italy, engaging in disputes over which country should accept immigrants rescued in the island’s disproportionately huge Search and Rescue area. The Italians claimed that such immigrants are Malta’s responsibility; whilst Malta insisted that these immigrants should be taken to the nearest seaport.

Malta has seen a dramatic reduction in the number of landings since Roberto Maroni, the Italian Interior Minister adopted a push-back policy, in collaboration with the Libyan authorities, sending immigrants rescued in international waters back to Libya. This policy has been harshly criticized by humanitarian organizations and the Roman Catholic Church.