Some of the causes of migrant hubs
Malta, a small island state located in the Mediterranean, has long been a hub for migrants attempting to reach Europe from North Africa. In recent years, the number of migrants arriving in Malta has increased dramatically, with the country becoming one of the largest migrant hubs in Europe.
According to a 2020 report by the EUAA (European Union Agency for Asylum), former EASO. Malta received the highest number of asylum applications per capita in the EU. In addition, the UNHCR reported that the number of irregular migrants arriving in Malta in 2019 was more than double that of the previous year.
Specifically, according to UNHCR Malta in 2019, approximately 3 400 migrants were intercepted or landed in Malta, compared to 1 445 in 2018. This represents a significant increase in the number of people seeking to enter Europe via this sea route, in just a year.
But we can see after that, the number of migrants in 2020 has decreased to 2 280.
Then, between 1 January and 31 December 2022, there were 444 sea arrivals to Malta (12 persons were airlifted by AFM as medical evacuations, 23 persons arrived spontaneously, whilst 409 persons were rescued by AFM at sea). This represents a 47% decrease compared to 2021.
The causes of this increase are complex and multifaceted. Malta's strategic location in the Mediterranean makes it a natural destination for migrants attempting to reach Europe. Additionally, the ongoing conflict and instability in countries such as Libya and Syria have created a push factor for migrants seeking safety and security.
Despite the increasing numbers, Malta's response to the arrival of migrants has been heavily criticised by human rights organisations. Migrants are often detained in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions, with limited access to healthcare and basic necessities. The Maltese government has also been accused of forcibly returning migrants to unsafe countries.
Indeed, some human rights organisations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) are some of the organizations that have raised concerns about the treatment of migrants in Malta. Additionally, various news articles and reports have documented the conditions of detention centers and the treatment of migrants in Malta.
The COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated the situation, with the Maltese government using the pandemic as an excuse to deny entry to asylum seekers and effectively shutting down its search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean.
The situation in Malta highlights the need for a more coordinated and compassionate approach to managing migration in Europe. The EU and other international actors must work together to address the root causes of migration, ensure that the human rights of migrants are respected, and provide meaningful support to countries like Malta that are on the front line of this crisis.
European Asylum Support Office. (2020). EASO Asylum Report 2020: Annual Report on the Situation of Asylum in the European Union. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union.
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. (2021). Mediterranean Situation: Operational Portal. Retrieved from https://data2.unhcr.org/en/situations/mediterranean/location/5179
Malte. Depuis le début de l’année, les méthodes illégales accentuent les souffrances des migrant·e·s en Méditerranée centrale (amnesty.org)
Reuters. (2020, November 24). Malta tops EU states in asylum applications per capita. Retrieved from
From the “Migration Burden” to Migrants’ Burden: Exile in Malta or the Condition of Inter-jobs | Cairn International Edition (cairn-int.info)
Asylum Report 2022 | European Union Agency for Asylum (europa.eu)