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Asylum in Malta: The Yellow Book or A Skullduggery of Hope

Yellow book holders are a category of asylum seekers, specific to Malta, allowing migrants whose asylum application is pending or has been rejected to remain on the territory, to work legally, while being in a semi-irregular situation, subject to possible arrest and deportation with or without notice.

The colored notebook is a police document granted to asylum seekers in Malta. It can be renewed every 3 or 6months and allows its holder to work legally

The story of Kusi Dismark, an immigrant of Ivorian origin who has been detained for several weeks and risks being sent back to his native land after 13 years spent  working in Malta, reveals the Kafkaesque nature of Malta's migration policies. 

The yellow book 

It is a yellow colored booklet (hence the name popularized by its holders) issued by the immigration police to all migrants once their asylum application has been registered. The migrant inherits this document which enables him or her to stay legally in the country while awaiting the outcome of the application. If the application is rejected, the migrant has the right to appeal against the decision of the International Protection Agency (IPA), which is responsible for ruling on asylum applications. The applicant has 15 days to lodge an appeal with the International Protection Appeals Tribunal.  If the appeal upholds the rejection of the asylum application, the applicant is notified by post of the Appeals Tribunal's decision.

Their Yellow Book ceases to be valid and is no longer renewed. The migrant may later receive an injunction to leave the territory of the European Union, and may be arrested and detained for repatriation. 

During this administrative procedure, the asylum seeker is protected by the Yellow Book.

According to legislation regulating asylum applications, the procedural duration should not  last more than 12 months, but things never  work out that way.

A screenshot of the asylum figures provided by UNHCR Malta. The waiting time is up to 3 years in some instances

Living a false dream

Based on figures by UNHCR, the outcome of an asylum application can take years. A minimum of two years, sometimes up to 4, as reported by many applicants who have shared their experiences with us.   The appeal process is no less lengthy: here similarly, migrants have waited up to 3 years to be notified of the rejection of their application. In the meantime, the migrant can work and lead a more or less decent life as long as he or she is in good health, because although the migrant is authorized to work, pay taxes and contribute to his or her pension, no benefits are paid in the event of redundancy. 

The yellow book enables its holder to find work legally, to obtain a contract and a temporary work permit renewable every 3 months. In possession of the yellow book, the migrant is entered in the labor register like any other citizen, and pays taxes and social security every month, duly debited from his or her wages or VAT declarations if he or she is self-employed. The Yellow Book holder has the right to work to feed himself, not to plan his future. 

He has a duty to pay taxes, to pay social security contributions, to ensure a retirement that will never be granted. 

A rejected appeal is tantamount to a notice to leave the country 

Once the appeal has been rejected, the migrant must leave Maltese territory. This injunction might not be applicable, as some of the migrants' countries of origin do not have repatriation agreements with Malta. Following rejection, some migrants manage to exfiltrate themselves out of the country and seek their fortune elsewhere.

Those who stay for one reason or another do so at their own risk. They remain undisturbed for many years, carrying on their economic activities in full view of the authorities. They begin to dream, wrongly, of a possible change in their legal status. 

Skulduggery of hope

The average age of migrants coming from Africa and elsewhere is 30. They're a young population emigrating to make a new life for themselves. There are no laws preventing them from dreaming. Therefore, allowing a migrant whose asylum application has been rejected, who has been ordered to leave the country, to work and settle for many years opens the door to the hope of a lasting solution. 

Kusi Dismark was one such victim. He spent 13 years working legally in Malta, albeit without legal documents.  He apprenticed at a vocational training center, opened a hairdressing salon, contributed to the country's economy, paid for social security which will benefit a Maltese national. He took care to respect the laws of the land and avoid misconduct. He believed that sooner or later he would be recognized as a useful member of society and that his status would be changed.

Instead, one Sunday morning as he was styling a client in his salon in Hamrun, police officers came, handcuffed him, and notified him of his status as the holder of a long-expired yellow book, a status that has no guarantees in the country.

Kusi has been locked up for weeks in the Safi detention center and is at risk of being sent back to Ivory Coast.

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