Conclusion: trouble ahead?
Given the country’s small size, and its status as a mainly ‘accidental’ destination for irregular migrants, the future evolution of migratory flows to Malta will be shaped first and foremost by developments beyond the island. Apart from the situation in countries of origin south of the Sahara, the evolution of Libya after the fall of Gaddafi will play a crucial role in this respect. Libya has currently resumed its previous role as a transit country. However, Italy and the EU more broadly have clearly stated their interest in Libya patrolling its own border in order to stop such irregular flows. It remains to be seen whether they will be successful in providing an incentive for Libya to do so, and whether they will be able to sidestep the legal argument against returning people to Libya after interception at sea.
The evolution of policies within the EU will also have an impact. Although currently there is little political will to renegotiate the Dublin III Regulation, there are on-going discussions and negotiations about the tangible implications of ‘solidarity’ between member states with regard to migration as well as other issue areas. Currently, there is a perceived incentive for Malta to maintain its image as gatekeeper on the EU’s southern border, as well as an island overwhelmed by irregular immigration. However, such a crisis narrative may not be effective in the long run in Europe.
Moreover, the narrative has detrimental effects on the migrant and refugee population in Malta. Some have been on the island for more than a decade and still remain economically and socially marginalised. The lack of integration policies on the island, along with the focus on deterrence and control by the government reflected in the mandatory detention policy, greatly impairs their ability to find adequate employment and to establish their lives on the island. Instead, they remain in limbo with hopes of moving on to another country, but with few opportunities to do so.
The combination of the migration flows seen in the 21st century in Malta, along with the immigration policies and practices adopted by the government have produced a population of migrants and refugees on the island with very few opportunities for integration. They have also resulted in an increase in racism on the island, and a lack of acceptance of this new migration reality by the wider Maltese population. Although Malta, as a small island state, has limited control over external factors that shape these migration flows, the island does have control over how it responds to the arrival of asylum seekers and migrants on its shores. There are alternatives to the current response, which has created marginalisation and tensions that are harmful to the Maltese society as a whole.