One day last October, hundreds of Syrian refugees were rescued from a shipwreck in the Mediterranean and brought to the European island of Malta. Their reception by the Maltese government was markedly different from that normally offered to asylum seekers who turn up in the country - most of whom are from sub-Saharan Africa and are subjected to a policy of mandatory detention, which involves being held in prison-like conditions for up to 18 months.
Neil Falzon, a human-rights lawyer and director of the Malta-based NGO aditus, told me in an email that the majority of the Syrian shipwreck survivors were not detained and were instead immediately transferred to open reception centres. “Psycho-social support was provided at once,” he said, and every effort was made to “locate family members and support family reunification where possible”. An inter-agency task force was also established, with NGO participation.
Falzon remarked: “This has never happened before, and although we did welcome this excellent and proactive approach, we were somewhat concerned that it indicated a clear divide between Syrian refugees and others who have been fleeing wars and persecution for several years and who have not been given this treatment upon arrival.”
Lebanon, on the other hand - one of the primary recipients of Syrian refugees since the onset of the war in Syria - seems to treat all varieties of refugee pretty much the same, ie poorly. READ MORE AT MIDDLE EAST EYE.