News | Sunday, 12 April 2009

Work permits denied to failed asylum seekers

Asylum seekers whose application has been rejected twice are no longer considered eligible for temporary, renewable three-month work permits, after a recent change of policy by the Employment Training Corporation (ETC).
An ETC spokesman confirmed this week that rejected asylum seekers are no longer being allowed to renew their temporary work permits – valid for three months – which up until recently enabled them to legally carry out casual work, pending their removal from the country.
ETC’s initiative coincides with a similar policy, introduced in the past two weeks, whereby rejected asylum seekers are encouraged to leave the open accommodation centres run by the government’s integration agency, OAIWAS.
Before this policy change, failed asylum seekers could reside in an open centre after their period of mandatory detention, and were also eligible to receive a ‘per diem’ allowance of approximately €4.50.
Now, permission to remain in open centres is limited to a maximum of six months, after which all existing benefits – including the per diem allowance – are automatically suspended.
Social worker Terry Gosden, who formerly ran the Marsa Open Centre, expressed alarm at the new policies, which he claims will fuel racism and create more social unrest connected with immigration.
“All failed asylum seekers currently living in the community, whose number is unknown but may be more than 1,000, and who are working legally, can no longer renew their work books,” Gosden explained.
“This places both themselves and society at risk, as they will very soon be unable to acquire the basics for survival, like food, shelter, and so on.”
Gosden claims the initiative will endanger the stability of our society. “We will be turning a large number of people, whose only crime was to seek asylum, into criminals. When they start stealing to eat, or start sleeping on the streets of Valletta, racism is likely to soar. The scenario is frankly scary.”
While concurring with the need to regularise the position of failed asylum seekers, Terry Gosden told this newspaper that the way forward is not to “starve them back to Africa”, as he describes this latest tactic.
“Yes, we should encourage people to return to country of origin, by a mixture of forced returns, and Assisted Voluntary Return programmes which Europe would willingly fund,” he said. “But the way we are going will turn us into the outcasts of Europe. We should be hard on Europe, not victimise the victims. As things are, this policy will endanger these people’s ability to eat, as well as risk losing what’s left of our humanity.”
Contacted on Thursday, OAIWAS director Alexander Tortell said he was unaware of the new policy, but insisted that any initiative regarding the renewal of work permits was up to the ETC, and as such his agency would not be getting involved.
“This is an immigration issue, and has little to do with integration of refugees,” he said.
But if the concerns of social workers like Terry Gosden are to be heeded, the policy may have a direct bearing on Malta’s ability to integrate successful asylum seekers, as well as those whose applications were turned down.
Reacting to last week’s announcement of the new policy of a six-month limit at open centres, Dr Katrine Camilleri of the Jesuit Refugee Services expressed concern at how polic changes like these may affect vulnerable cases.
“While it is clear that rejected asylum seekers do not have any legal right to remain in Malta, the fact remains that there are a number of people who cannot be returned home, in spite of the fact that they are not granted legal protection,” she commented yesterday.
“The general assumption is that this must be their fault, because they are being dishonest about their true identity, or because they are not cooperating with the authorities’ legitimate attempts to remove them. However, in practice this is not always the case.”
JRS outlined its position that people who cannot be returned home, despite not being entitled to protection, should be provided with basic shelter and the means to live with dignity.

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