Child Refugees Hide to Avoid Return to Malta

Sweden's decision to follow the Dublin convention and send undocumented migrants back to their first port of call in Malta, rather than testing the refugees right to stay in the European Union here, has once again hit the news headlines Tuesday, as a new report shows that half the child refugees due to be sent back to the Mediterranean island have gone back into hiding.

The Dublin Convention is a set of rules set up by the European Union, which states that asylum seekers have to seek asylum at their point of entry into the EU. So if they have sailed across the Mediterranean from Africa to Malta, as many do, then it is in Malta they have to apply for asylum.

But the refugee camps in Malta are overcrowded and heavily criticised, so many refugees continue their flight further into the EU, including to Sweden, and then apply for asylum here.

But according to the Dublin Convention, Sweden has to send them back to Malta to have their applications tested, and according to some asylum seekers Swedish Radio News has spoken to, that's something they want to avoid at all costs.

Abdikader from Somalia is currently living in a halfway house for asylum seekers in southern Sweden, he says he'd never go back to Malta.

"Even if there is war in Somalia, I'd rather go there than back to Malta", he says. "If I got the choice from the Swedish authorities to go to Malta or to Somalia, I'd choose Somalia, 100%".

He says he was kept imprisoned on Malta for 6 months, before being put out on the street. He and a friend were then attacked, he claims, his friend killed, and then he fled to Sweden.

A review carried out by the Swedish Migration Board at Swedish Radio's request showed that more than half of the child refugees due to be sent back to Malta have disappeared during the past year, to avoid being sent back there, it is assumed.

The Migration Board says it has no knowledge of children that have been sent there facing trouble. But researcher Anna Lundberg from Malmö University College tells Swedish Radio that she met 15 of the migrants sent back to Malta, and they did face problems.

Lundberg says: "They don't have access to their most basic rights, such as education or healthcare. They are subject to collective punishments, there are no guardians, we would never have accepted this if they were Swedish kids".

The Swedish government says it has to abide by the Dublin Convention. Those are the rules, it claims. However, the Swedish EU commissioner, Cecilia Malmström, also responsible for migration issues, says that Sweden can stop sending children back to Malta if it fears for their human rights.