As part of our efforts to monitor access to the COVID-19 vaccines for undocumented migrants in Europe, we’re speaking with national-level advocates about the situation in their countries. This interview was conducted in August 2021 with Neil Falzon from aditus foundation to discuss the situation in Malta. It is not meant to offer an exhaustive picture of the legal and practical context in Malta. Please get in touch at email@example.com if you have information you’d like to share, and follow our Twitter page @PICUM_post to get more recent updates.
What does the Maltese vaccination strategy say about undocumented migrants?
The Maltese vaccination strategy doesn’t mention undocumented migrants, but prioritises groups based on age and medical conditions. Undocumented migrants are also a very small group of migrants in Malta, as most persons coming to the islands gets some sort of a document confirming their presence on the territory.
But the question of the vaccination of migrants quickly became evident for us. When the vaccination campaign reached people in their fifties and forties, we started to get calls from migrants and refugees to inquire about the vaccination.
Was it possible for them to book their vaccination?
It was for migrants residing here regularly, such as those holding work permits, and beneficiaries of protection, meaning refugees and holders of subsidiary protection. To book your vaccine online, at the start of the campaign, you had to have either an ID or a residence permit number, which basically left asylum-seekers and undocumented people out.
How did you go about addressing this?
With other civil society organisations, we got in touch with the government and called for inclusive access to the vaccines, based on both human rights and public health arguments. Our first calls fell flat: the government responded that the vaccination was only for regularly residing people, and that in any case it would have been nearly impossible to reach undocumented people as they weren’t registered anywhere.
So, what changed?
Well, things changed as younger age groups got to book their vaccine. At that time, the government opened the vaccinations to all people in open reception centres and to detained migrants, regardless of their residence status. And then, out of the blue, when all Maltese citizens could have received their shot based on their age and medical eligibility, they opened up access to the public vaccination centres too. So anyone can now turn up at a vaccination centre and get their shot. In fact, thousands of migrants have been queuing to get their shot, also because we saw that many employers expected staff to be vaccinated in order to ensure a Covid-safe workplace.
Are there any other avenues for undocumented people to get their shot?
Yes, the central vaccination hub remains open. For some time, there were mobile teams administering the vaccine at various locations. These were staffed by medical students, civil servants, and civil society volunteers and were hugely successful particularly amongst the migrant communities.
Are there any practical barriers to access the vaccines for undocumented people?
Well, there’s lots of public information out there, on billboards, buses, and on civil society online ads, which is good. The biggest issue is the reluctance of some migrants to get the vaccine. From the beginning of the outbreak, we were engaged in information campaigns targeting migrants as we were aware of misconceptions and information gaps within particular communities. We face the same challenge in relation to the vaccines.
Are there any risks of immigration checks if an undocumented person tries to get their vaccine?
The government made it clear that there would be no data sharing with immigration authorities. But we don’t have a formal separation between public services and immigration enforcement.
What about people in immigration detention?
Undocumented people in immigration detention were actually the first to benefit from the government opening up the vaccination campaign to migrants. This was largely due to the fact that it was easier for the authorities to manage the vaccinations in reception and pre-removal detention places as opposed to public vaccination points: anyone residing in a centre is obviously registered and therefore traceable, which is key to administer the vaccine doses.
COVID-19 certificates are now required in Malta to access lots of services and places. Are those certificates available to undocumented migrants too?
Yes. When an undocumented person gets their vaccine, they also receive a health number which they can use to download their COVID-19 certificate from the website of the Health Ministry.
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