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As Malta Marks World Refugee Day, Here’s Seven Important Facts You Might Not Have Known

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It’s World Refugee Day and that means a lot more to some than it does for others.

A refugee is someone who has had to flee their country out of fear of being persecuted, whilst the term ‘asylum-seeker’ refers to a person who has fled their home country and is still in the application process for gaining international protection, such as the status of a refugee.

On the other hand, a migrant refers to those who have made the decision to migrate to another country for personal reasons; ie. To find work or better living conditions. Therefore without the intervention of external compelling factors.

It’s easy to see how all these terms get confused with one another and, now that you know the difference, it’s important that we use them properly.

However, there’s so much more to know about refugees in Malta. Here are seven things you need to know for World Refugee Day…

1. You don’t need to flee war to be a refugee

You could be fleeing persecution too, which means you can be a refugee because of your race, affiliation with a social or political group, or even nationality. If you’re afraid of returning to your country of origin because of any of these things, you have the right to apply for asylum as stated by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

2. Only 16% of refugees are hosted in developed countries

In fact, 4 out 5 refugees end up in neighbouring countries which include some of the poorest in the world and it’s estimated that 45.7 million are displaced in their own countries too.

More than two-thirds of all refugees worldwide come from just five countries: Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Myanmar and Somalia. It’s up to everyone to help elevate these people from a perpetual state of fear.

Refugee and migrant women who completed a course in care work as part of a project by Jesuit Refugee Service Malta and supported by UNHCR, to assist women in accessing the labour market. Copyright: © UNHCR/Joanna Demarco

Refugee and migrant women who completed a course in care work as part of a project by Jesuit Refugee Service Malta and supported by UNHCR, to assist women in accessing the labour market. Copyright: © UNHCR/Joanna Demarco

3. Half of all refugees are children

And they’re all under the age of 18. In Malta, roughly one in four persons who arrived in Malta by sea in 2019 were children, predominantly from Sudan, Somalia, Cote d’Ivoire and Eritrea and 85% were unaccompanied. Some lost their parents and were forced to flee, and many spent their teenage years in Libyan detention camps.

4. Refugees in Malta are doing it for themselves

Over the years, Malta’s refugee population has become more integrated and have set up their own refugee communities and NGOs such as Spark 15. Refugees in Malta have become so established that some have their own premises where they meet to provide support for each other, meet with local stakeholders and hold other organised activities – which help raise awareness about the challenges they’ve faced.

It’s also worth noting that not all refugees arrive in Malta by boat. Many arrived by plane or ferry and then applied for asylum when here. 

Asylum-seekers disembark from the Lifeline search and rescue boat, June 2018, in Malta. Copyright: © UNHCR/Darrin Zammit Lupi

Asylum-seekers disembark from the Lifeline search and rescue boat, June 2018, in Malta. Copyright: © UNHCR/Darrin Zammit Lupi

5. Refugees contribute to Malta’s economy

That’s because once a person applies for asylum in Malta, they have the legal right to work here. Not only will they be contributing to our economy, but they’ll be contributing their knowledge and skillset too. 

Many manage to find success and are on a path to a fruitful career whether it be in catering, outlets or even pet care! However, some find it difficult to land a job, either because of discrimination, racism or language barriers.

6. Most refugees assimilate into the community well

Refugees attend language classes offered by the government or NGOs and share their own talents to the communities such as music and sports. In fact, Malta’s football club Syria-Gżira FC was set up by a Syrian refugee in Malta and gives refugees the chance to play in local leagues.

Shazali, a Sudanese refugee speaks about his experiences to a local crowd on World Refugee Day 2019, at an activity organised by UNHCR Malta. Copyright: © UNHCR/Niels den Hollander

Shazali, a Sudanese refugee speaks about his experiences to a local crowd on World Refugee Day 2019, at an activity organised by UNHCR Malta. Copyright: © UNHCR/Niels den Hollander

7. 95% of asylum seekers are not entitled to family reunification

In Malta, since the beginning of 2018, 25% of asylum applications were given international protection, and out of these, 5% were given Refugee status and 20% were granted Subsidiary Protection, which is another kind of international protection granted to people fleeing war and violence. While refugees can apply for family reunification, people with subsidiary status cannot and their family and children must find other ways to travel to safety.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is advocating for family reunification for people with subsidiary protection so to allow people to reunite with their loved ones and fully integrate into Maltese society. 

It also means families can live safely together, away from war and violence, and it would also bring Maltese law more in line with other EU states.

Members of some of the refugee-led organisations in Malta, working to support their communities, promote inclusion and  create more opportunities for refugees in Malta. Copyright: © UNHCR/Dragana Rankovic

Members of some of the refugee-led organisations in Malta, working to support their communities, promote inclusion and create more opportunities for refugees in Malta. Copyright: © UNHCR/Dragana Rankovic

The UNHCR seeks to address misconceptions and to show the reality about refugees. It also aims to support the community in Malta by raising awareness on refugee issues

On a day like today, there’s no better time to educate yourself on refugees, how and why they got here and what we can all do to help make Malta a safer and better place to live for people from all backgrounds.

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