30 country profiles reflecting
the state and diversity of the
humanitarian sector in Europe

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The main humanitarian actors are FBOs and NGOs (and IOs such as UNHCR and IOM). Priorities – apart ‘classical’ (post-)emergency work – are asylum seekers and irregular migrants and the ‘humanitarian-development continuum’.

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Education, Health, Sanitation Water and Hygiene
Refugees, Children, Youth

Scope of involvement


(Very) limited donations by Maltese government to humanitarian agencies in the aftermath of crises.

The main humanitarian actors are FBOs and NGOs (and IOs such as UNHCR and IOM). Priorities – apart ‘classical’ (post-)emergency work – are asylum seekers and irregular migrants and the ‘humanitarian-development continuum’ (though this label is not often used). Areas of activity include: Asylum seekers/irregular migrants: advocacy, legal aid, housing, education, training and work, work with unaccompanied minors, women and other vulnerable groups. ‘Humanitarian-development continuum’: FBOs and NGOs working in post-conflict and post-emergency areas on education, health care, vulnerable children etc.

The trend in the recent decade has been towards work with asylum seekers and irregular migrants. This trend is set to continue with the instability of Malta’s southern borders, in particular Libya. A trend which should develop as the sector becomes larger and more professionalized is a focus on work across borders and with increased international (in particular EU) funding. The state is probably going to continue to take a back seat in humanitarian action in the coming years, because of a lack of human and financial capacity. It is however currently (December 2013) revising its humanitarian aid policy.


Malta became a donor with EU membership in 2004. It had been an aid recipient until then, though it has not required humanitarian assistance since independence. During the Libya crisis, Malta was a crucial humanitarian hub both for repatriation and for shipping of humanitarian goods.


Main area of activity is at national level vis-a-vis asylum seekers reaching Malta.

Turning point

Two recent defining moments for the evolution of humanitarian aid in Malta are the start of refugee and irregular migration arrivals to Malta in the late 1990s (first from Eastern Europe and later from Africa) and the Libya crisis.


Types of stakeholders

NGO in general

Maltese civil society, and in particular Catholic Church-affiliated FBOs, has a much longer humanitarian tradition than the state: the Sovereign Order of Malta is seen as one of the first humanitarian organisations. The refugee and irregular migration arrivals (see ‘Turning points’ section)led to the creation and/or growth of various NGOs focusing mainly on asylum seekers and less on humanitarian emergencies in the countries of origin (e.g. Somalia, Eritrea).

National Red Cross Society

The National Red Cross was born from the British Red Cross in Malta. Today it runs First Aid courses, takes care of logistical support to evacuations on an ad hoc basis ( e.g. Evacuation from Libya in 2011) and on a regular basis carries out family tracing activities for refugees and asylum seekers in and out of detention centres. Volunteers also regularly support the latter and organise activities for refugees and migrants living in and out of open centres.

Faith-based organisations

Malta has a strong tradition of missionary work. Thus, any humanitarian work would normally take place in the context of a more long-standing presence in a country or community. According to a recent study, Maltese missionaries have in recent years been active in at least 70 countries globally, mostly but not only in developing countries. This is an area that has also attracted a growing number of Maltese volunteers travelling to the missions to provide assistance. Traditionally, there is hence a fusion of development and humanitarian work..

Armed Forces

The Armed Forces of Malta has also taken part in humanitarian and peacekeeping missions (e.g. in the Balkans, Georgia, Lebanon)

Private Sector

Likewise, the private business sector organized humanitarian relief efforts during the Libya crisis, but normally confines itself to funding. Political parties and trade unions are not regularly active

State humanitarianism

Ministries and state agencies involved

The Maltese government has played an intermittent role: it was very active during the Libya crisis and provides ad hoc contributions to UNHCR during particular emergencies, but has no regular humanitarian aid programme.

ODA after 2004 has focused on development rather than humanitarian action (unless the detention of asylum seekers and irregular migrants in Malta – as per DAC rules accounted for as ODA – is classified as humanitarian action).

Legal framework

Although no specific law exists which is humanitarian in nature a peculiarity may be seen in the Legal Notice that establishes AWAS - the Agency for the Welfare of Asylum Seekers; technically tasked with reception arrangements they also carry out vulnerability assessments out of detention thus acting as a key participant in onward referral.

Principles and accountability

Accountability has yet to emerge as a topic within the Maltese aid landscape generally, and in respect to humanitarian aid. Internal accountability within NGOs and IGOs is being strongly encouraged through the Voluntary Organizations Act.


The NGOs in the refugee sector engage in informal multi-stakeholder dialogue process with the government and all interested parties in the subject matter.

Specific focus

Linking Relief Rehabilitation Development

The Civil Protection Department has a humanitarian aidsection. Staff is trained internationally (ECHO courses) and may be deployed overseas primarily to support actions initiated by other states and international organisations. CPD in Malta also is responsible for national collections that may be used in case of national emergencies or for sending of food, water and other aid to emergencies overseas.


Humanitarian Education

Higher education

The new MA in Humanitarian Action of the Department of International Relations of the University of Malta is the first of its kind in Malta. It is offered both part and full time in order to cater to the needs of various types of humanitarian workers. In addition, selected courses from the MA can be followed as “stand-alone” study units for persons wishing to upgrade their skills A final novelty, apart from the MA in Humanitarian Action of the University of Malta  – is online education (on humanitarian diplomacy) based in Malta.

In-house training

Skills and competences have often been acquired through field/professional experiences, although short (often in-house) courses are also given. . Training of volunteers and missionaries of Church-affiliated FBOs tends to be separate from training provided by secular organizations, mirroring a certain “bifurcation” of Maltese actors generally. Short, ad hoc courses tend to dominate because of the size of the country and lack of material and human resources. The majority of courses focus on either preparation of Maltese volunteers going to work with missionaries in the global south or training for frontliners working with asylum seekers and irregular migrants in Malta...


There is a discernible ‘old school’ of self-trained volunteers and a new more professionalized cohort entering the field with a specialized MA degree (from Malta or overseas)The number of educators is on the rise. There are also more international training opportunities, not least because of Malta’s status as a new EU MS.


Calleja, Isabelle, Anna Khakee, and Maria Pisani (forthcoming) “Blessed is He Who Considers the Human Rights Paradigm: Maltese aid between charity and human rights, between Catholicism and secularism”, Mediterranean Quarterly (forthcoming)

CONCORD (2012) Aid Watch 2012 "Aid We Can -invest more in global development"

European Court of Human Rights (2013). Case of Aden Ahmed v. Malta, Application no. 55352/12, Judgment, Strasbourg, 23 July

International Commission of Jurists (2012). “Not here to stay: Report of the International Commission of Jurists on its visit to Malta on 26 – 30 September 2011”

Médecins Sans Frontières (2009) Not Criminals. Report on Malta.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Malta (2007) An Overseas Development Policy and a Framework for Humanitarian Assistance for Malta Pisani, M. (2011).

Pisani, M. (2011). “There's an elephant in the room, and she's 'rejected' and black: observations on rejected female asylum seekers from sub-Saharan Africa in Malta”. Open Citizenship, Spring, 24-51

Sammut, Joseph M. “The Goals that Malta wants to achieve – Ends” in Informe de Social Watch 2013: Desde las bases: INFORMES NACIONALES


Anna Khakee, Isabelle Calleja, Alba Cauchi and Maria Pisani
University of Malta

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