The Malta Independent 22 September 2019, Sunday

The Emigrants’ Commission – Assisting asylum seekers first

Malta Independent Monday, 27 July 2009, 00:00 Last update: about 6 years ago

A long line of people fills the narrow corridor of the Emigrants' Commission office in Dar l-Emigrant, Valletta. The office is the first to be visited by asylum seekers upon release from the detention centres.

Last Friday, 45 asylum seekers were released and were expected to reach the Commission's office anytime during the day. By 10.30am, 29 had arrived.

The Emigrants' Commission director and Archbishop's delegate secretariat for all pastoral care of people on the move, Fr Alfred Vella, insists on meeting each and every new arrival. The party is split into small groups of four and, group by group, they make their way to Fr Alfred's office.

Four young men enter Fr Alfred's office and he greets them with a smile, inviting them to sit down. He gently asks for their names and country of origin. The men are from Nigeria, Ghana, Togo and Sierra Leone.

The priest, patient but firm, explains the functions of the Emigrants' Commission. He takes his time to repeat and clarify some things especially since not all understood English well. He repeated some things in French and handed out a leaflet to make sure the message is delivered.

“Once they are briefed, a file is opened. Refugees and refugees on a humanitarian basis are entitled to travel documents, which can be used within six weeks from issue,” explains Fr Alfred.

“Those who have even one rejection are not yet entitled to travelling documents. The commission can help find work and obtain a working permit to all except those rejected. However, those with rejected status can still work if sponsored by an employer.”

“We advise them to work with a proper permit; otherwise the refugee is not entitled to social security or other benefits. It could also lead to abuse by the employers,” insists Fr Alfred.

"The commission liaises constantly with the social security and other government departments. A lawyer is in attendance once a week to discuss any legal matters. We issue reference letters and recommendations for polyclinics and hospitals."

“Help is provided to all those refugees who want to study or continue their studies in Malta. We assist them in learning Maltese, English, basic mathematics and computer literacy.”

“The commission plays an important role to reference refugees to banks to open a bank account, for example.”

“We provide protection, basic needs, accommodation, recreation and schooling. We also provide marriage counselling to both refugees and locals, aid them in ancestry and children tracing and assist them in case of the death of a family member. There's no limit really!” continued Fr Alfred.

“We act like middlemen between the government and the refugees on behalf of the catholic church in Malta. Around 20 volunteers and three employees run the commission, he added. By the end of the day, Fr Alfred met all the newly released asylum seekers and others who stopped by his office for reason or another.

Apart from these services, the commission also possesses a number of accommodation facilities around Malta - 14 homes with a capacity of 400 beds.

The Emigrants' Commission came into being in 1950 when an exodus of Maltese was leaving the island in search of a better future elsewhere. Most locals left because of unemployment and overpopulation. Today, the services and scope of the commission has changed. It covers those affected by migration, mostly refugees, but the commission also assists tourists. The commission has other organisations under its patronage, which supports migrants in other specific areas.

More information on the Emigrants' Commission can be accessed on www.mecmalta.org or from Dar l-Emigrant, Castille Place, Valletta.

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