The Malta Independent 19 May 2019, Sunday

Politicians do not like talking about migration as this helps fuel local fear of migrants

Giulia Magri Monday, 1 April 2019, 09:58 Last update: about 3 months ago

Many politicians do not like discussing migration; they would rather simply ignore the subject, according to the executive director of the Foundation for Shelter and Support to Migrants.

Interviewed by The Malta Independent, Dr Ahmed Bugre said politicians do this as they are fully aware of the underlying fear and prejudice the Maltese population has regarding migrants and asylum seekers.

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Instead of discussing the issues Maltese and migrants face, and their prejudices, they just ignore it, reconfirming the population’s feelings,” he says.

Bugre explained that the foundation is working towards the process of including migrants and asylum seekers in Maltese society and speaks about the numerous challenges the migrants and the foundation faces in this development.

“Migrants are marginalized. Even those who have lived here for over 10 years are unable to apply for citizenship and cannot even vote for their local council, which only strengthens this ‘Us and Them’ mentality,” he says, adding that the integration of migrants is still project-based and there is no Government budget allocation.

“It just reflects on how this is not an issue that is being prioritised.”

 

 

Could you explain the foundation’s vision and objectives?

FSM works towards the inclusion of migrants in society, and we focus on three main elements. The most important element is education; which is key to personal empowerment and one of the first steps towards a migrant’s integration into society. Without the ability to speak English or Maltese, migrants are unable to apply for work. We have provided English and Maltese language courses at the Marsa Open Centre, and between 2010 and 2015, we had trained over 2000 people in the language course alone. We also provided a culture orientation programme, so that people understand the Maltese culture and are able to integrate properly and understand the Maltese. Vice-versa we have provided some training to Maltese companies, so that they too can provide a more open and integrated work place.

We also work with the community to make sure that any issues are discussed and resolved amongst themselves. Many issues that migrants had back in Africa travel across the Mediterranean with them and many are left traumatised from the experience, so we make sure we are there to help them. The final element is the importance of the mental health stability of the migrant.

 

FSM recently published a research study on the long term mental health care of migrants in Malta; could you tell us what came out of this research?

When people are excluded from society, the sense of anxiety and exclusion takes a mental toll on a person; which is exactly what we are seeing in migrants. Many who go into a mental health hospital are then stuck there with no means of getting out or any form of support system to go to. So these young migrants are sent to a mental institution, and once they come out have no support system, they relapse and then go to into a psychiatric hospital or end up in prison. Not only is this an issue for migrants but also for Maltese as well. We are trying to make the government aware that this issue must be solved, and that it is not as simple as a migrant going to places like Appogg. Not only the migrant might not be financially able to travel to Appogg, but that Appogg does not have the appropriate services in terms of the cross cultural competences to help such traumatised migrants. That is what FSM is trying to do, to bridge the gaps in society which are affecting migrants, since we work in the community with migrants and we know the issues they are facing.

Why do you think there is still so much stigma towards migrants and asylum seekers today?

I believe it boils down to two main issues, religion and skin colour. Many people believe that Islam as a religion is incompatible with Maltese culture, especially when one looks at the treatment of religion in history, as the Christian Maltese conquered the Turks in 1565, that mentality of us being better than them remains.  On the note of skin colour, people feel superior towards black people. There is this stigma that if you are of a darker skin tone you are poor, ill, or uneducated. Again, this mentality is all due to there being a lack of proper integration amongst different cultures. It was a big culture shook for Maltese back in 2004/2005, when so many migrants came from Africa; and mostly the working class felt threatened that their jobs would be taken by migrants since it was cheap labour, which at the end of the day is the truth. Malta had difficulty implementing a good integration programme, because one never sees Europeans living in Malta being treated the same way African migrants are being treated.

 

What do you believe is the biggest issue migrants are facing?

Currently Maltese economy needs migrant labour, therefore we see numerous migrants and refugees working on construction sites, but at what cost? Every day people call me saying that a migrant is admitted into hospital after being injured at work, but that they cannot afford to pay the bill. Many times these migrants and refugees lie about their injuries, because they are working illegally and without a permit. They work ridiculous hours to be paid a few hundred euros, but can they report this? No, because the contactor is more powerful than the migrant. FSM works to bring justice to these people. We are not pro-migrant, but pro-human, as we simply wish for people to be treated equally. I understand the challenges these migrants are facing, as I myself was migrant, so I know what it is like to move to another country without any family support.

Also children whose parents are migrants but are born in Malta carry the same identity as their parents; they are not Maltese although born here. This is such an issue when it comes to that person’s security and inclusion in society. These children are part of society, but are not officially part of it, which will only cause more issues in the near future. There are families who have lived here for 25 years but are still denied citizenship; I believe it is the fear that if foreigners are given the right of citizenship, it would give them power and they would overrule Maltese and the nation’s culture.

 

Back in January we had 49 migrants aboard two ships which Prime Minister Joseph Muscat did not allow to dock for two weeks and had argued that “Malta is a very small country, and it is in our nature to assist those in distress but as Prime Minister, I cannot shirk responsibility of safeguarding our national security and national interest.” What do you make of his statement?

National security means that in the future we respect the peace of the nation and preserve the culture, but what threats does a person who has been so many days at sea, seeking asylum pose to the Maltese or to any country which they are seeking asylum? How many of the persons who have applied for asylum have ever posed a threat to Malta? What do these people have? What risk do 49 people, who have been rescued at sea, who are claiming to have been beaten and raped in Libya, what security risk do they pose to Malta? You cannot speak of justice, and then leave people out at sea during the freezing month, and in Christmas time. Would you leave Europeans out at sea like that?

Imagine, a person comes and pays millions of euros for a passport, but you have no idea who they are. Who are they? How can they afford such a passport? Do they not pose a risk more than these migrants who arrive to our shores with nothing more than the clothes on their back? Are we not aware that so many dangerous people enter our island every day and they are not the people coming by boat?

Just as I point my finger at Europeans, I also blame the governments  of the countries where there migrants originate, who let their citizens go through such hell, whilst they are invited and paid to come to Europe to negotiate deals, and get corrupt money in their hands whilst their people are dying. There is so much economic power imbalance, which is a vicious circle, which we need to stop, as more people will die or being abused of.

People are quick to attack the migrants and NGOs which are working for the rights of migrants, but really we are helping and saving these people’s lives and dignity when no one else will. Who is at fault us, the migrants or the government? The situation is what is it and we need people to know the desperate situation our migrants are facing today. People will not stop coming, you can put fire on the sea, and people will burn to get across - they are that desperate.

 

 

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