Figures of people attempting to enter and leave Malta with forged or improper documents in Malta have tripled in the last year, amid fresh concerns that a criminal ring could be responsible.
In fact, around 159 people were caught with forged passports and other identification documents in 2019, a significant jump from just 62 that were arraigned in court in 2018.
Meanwhile, 67 have been arrested for the crime in the first half of this year.
MaltaToday reported that police believe a ring of criminals forging fake immigration documents in Africa is behind the increasing amount of arrests, with the illicit trade of identification documents surging once Malta reopened its borders after COVID-19 lockdown.
And while the circumstances of each arrest are unclear, what is certain is that as the number of migrant arrivals continues to grow, it is an increasingly common phenomenon with asylum seekers.
1. Why would asylum seekers look to leave?
Asylum seekers are required to remain in their country of arrival until their documentation and protection status is sorted. Even then, they are usually only allowed to leave for a maximum of three months and official relocation to another country is difficult.
With the Refugee Commissioner already struggling with the massive caseload (over 1,500 applications remain pending), the asylum process can already be an arduous task.
And while there is no set timeframe in which the process must be finalised, should their claims to asylum be rejected, or for example, they feel they have been granted the wrong kind of protection, it can take months to over a year for the Refugee Appeals Board to conjure a decision.
This means that if they desire to leave to a different country, to, for example, join their family settled elsewhere, they are effectively stuck in limbo until a decision is made.
2. Minors caught with forged documents steadily increased
Last year, 25 underage people were caught with fake identification documents, with 13 found in 2020.
Sources told Lovin Malta that minors are particularly inclined to take the risky journey out of the country, particularly if they have family settled in other safe countries.
This is because the process for minors can take over a year: including the age assessment, care order and finding a legal guardian. Only then can they apply for family reunification, which could make the process even longer.
“The prolonged-time period for minor asylum seekers means that some get restless and try to leave to meet their families before the procedure is finalised,” a source explained.
“Some get fed up and leave and some are imprisoned trying”.
3. But this is just the tip of the iceberg for minors
According to various well-informed sources, it is not unusual that minors seeking asylum are misclassified as adults in order to relieve the state of their burden to provide extra assistance such as care workers or legal guardians.
In fact, one source, a lawyer who often represents asylum seekers tried for forging documents to leave, warned that there have been instances where they would only realise they were minors after being imprisoned with adults.
And while misclassified minors remains a pertinent issue in its own right, the question remains, where are people buying these fake passports and IDs from?