For decades, there has been a general trend of population movements from developing nations to the developed countries of the world. Historically, developing nations are some of the countries on the continents of Africa, Asia and South/Central America. Since Malta joined the EU in 2004 there has been an increase in the number of such migrants reaching Maltese shores, particularly during the period from 2004 to 2008. These migrants are referred to as “Klandestini” in Maltese, a term that translates as irregular or illegal migrants.

Such people are seeking asylum in Malta, claiming persecution in their own country, and they arrive in Malta without passports or other means of identification. Malta lies just a few hundred kilometres off the Libyan coast, the alleged departure point of vessels carrying migrants from Africa. Many migrants are from war-torn and extremely poor countries with a poor tolerance of human rights, such as Somalia. As Malta signed the Geneva convention, along with other European countries, then the rights of asylum seekers have to be respected. Libya did not sign the treaty, so boats cannot be sent back to Libya.

During the period 2004 – 2008, from spring to autumn, boats containing 27 or 28 migrants were arriving in Malta every few days. Some boats were rescued by AFM patrol boats in Maltese or International waters. Malta has a population of just over 400,000 and the highest population density in Europe, and in 2006 alone, 1800 such irregular migrants arrived on the island. Due to this influx, racist sentiments have been building with many angry comments posted on websites, such as that of the Times of Malta.

Under current EU rules, the country where the migrants arrive has a duty to take care of them and prevent them moving elsewhere in the EU, which, for Malta, is slightly ironic as it’s suggested that these people don’t want to be in Malta at all – they want to settle in mainland Europe. In Malta, irregular migrants are housed in tents in closed detention centres, harsh conditions that have been condemned internationally.

The number of illegal immigrants arriving in Malta has declined steeply over the past two years.