Dr. Camilleri has headed the Malta office of the international Jesuit Refugee Service since August 2011. In 2002, the organization was the first to offer regular legal assistance to refugees in Malta’s detention centers. Since then, Dr. Camilleri and her staff of 18 have supported hundreds of refugees, giving them legal advice, organizing visits, establishing social worker projects and facilitating access to healthcare.
2006 saw a series of violent attacks on Dr. Camilleri personally and on her work. A total of nine Jesuit vehicles were burned out in two assaults. In April 2006, burning material was thrown into Dr. Camilleri’s car and her front door was also set alight, terrifying her family trapped inside. The attacks gave the Maltese public a wake-up call and drew fierce condemnation, including from the government.
Being an experienced expert in refugee rights, Dr. Camilleri repeatedly speaks out on political mat- ters concerning migration and refugees. She is critical of the fact that migrant destinations are increasingly attempting to stem the influx of arrivals with stricter border controls, given that, as she explains, turning people away at the border violates their right to asylum. She also criticizes the Maltese authorities’ practice of placing asylum seekers in detention as soon as they arrive. Under the provisions of Malta’s Aliens Act, migrants who are refused entry or placed under a deportation order are detained. They remain in detention even if they apply for asylum. The asylum procedure takes an average of 6-8 months.
Dr. Camilleri was born in Malta in 1970 and first went to work for a small law firm after graduating from law school, before joining the Jesuit Refugee Service in 1996. She has lectured in refugees’ rights and coordinated a study group on the subject at the University of Malta since 2003. She was honored by the United Nations with the Nansen Refugee Award for her commitment to the rights of boat people in the Mediterranean in 2007.