The Maltese government has failed to say whether two Libyan pilots who defected to Malta last Monday have been interviewed by the Refugee Commissioner’s Office yet.
But a spokesperson for the justice and home affairs ministry did confirm that the pilots are not being kept in one of the detention centres as normally happens whenever there is a request for asylum by irregular migrants.
In response to questions sent by this newspaper the spokesperson said their request is being processed by the Refugee Commissioner’s Office, and when asked whether they are being kept in detention, the reply we got was that “they are not in one of the detention centres”.
They were interrogated at length by the police and the security service, but have since been released and are thought to be staying at the Luqa barracks of the Armed Forces of Malta.
They were granted permission to land their Mirage F1 fighter jets at Malta International Airport on Monday afternoon. They filed a request for political asylum saying they had refused orders to shoot civilians from their planes.
According to the Refugees Act, 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.”
Should the Refugee Commissioner decide that the conditions to declare an asylum seeker a refugee are not satisfied, he may make a recommendation to the justice and home affairs minister to grant the applicant, subsidiary protection.
This applies to asylum seekers whose request for refugee protection has been turned down and if they return to their country of origin would face a real risk of suffering serious harm. According to the Refugees Act, the commissioner makes 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.