The Malta Independent 7 December 2022, Wednesday
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Interview: Prostitution Around Albert Town at an all time high – Marsa mayor

Malta Independent Monday, 25 April 2011, 00:00 Last update: about 9 years ago

The problem of prostitution in Marsa, especially around the Albert Town area, is growing at an alarming rate, mayor FRANCIS DEBONO tells Scott Grech. He believes that a plan is needed for Marsa to be revived, but admits that the location of the open centre within the locality does add to the town’s difficulties

Prostitution in Gżira has declined because the problem has become more widespread around the Albert Town area, Marsa mayor Francis Debono told this newspaper.

“Prostitution around Albert Town is now at an all time high. Problems are getting worse,” he said.

“Men and women can be seen loitering with intent as soon as dusk descends and people who work in this industrial part of Marsa often make sure to end their day’s work well before night falls. The majority of those who work throughout the night shut their garage doors, because they are embarrassed and offended by others’ unruly behaviour. Residents, especially the elderly, lock themselves indoors at night and hardly ever go out.

“Such is the high number of prostitutes roaming around Albert Town’s streets that, rather worryingly, the more desperate among prostitutes have even started loitering closer to the centre of Marsa in the hope of attracting more clients. The problem is spreading rapidly. No wonder much of the property in Marsa has devalued drastically over the past 10 years,” Mr Debono said.

Police statistics confirm mayor’s comments

According to the police, 156 and 162 people were charged with loitering with intent in Marsa in 2010 and 2009 respectively – more than doubling statistics for 2008, during which 68 persons were charged for the same criminal offence.

Besides prostitution, drug trafficking is also a well-known problem around the streets of Albert Town, which acts as a borough between Marsa and Paola and which has always had a certain stigma attached to it.

However, and again according to police statistics, only nine people have been charged with drug trafficking in Albert Town between 2008-2010 which, for Mr Debono, highlights that “prostitution is much more of a problem in Albert Town right now than drug trafficking is. Nevertheless, used syringes litter some of the streets, even in Marsa’s centre, posing not only an eye-sore but an obvious danger, especially to children.

“I was approached recently by a mother whose child had unknowingly picked up a used syringe right next to one of the locality’s major banks.

“To be fair to the police, they do have their work cut out in controlling the area and the number of prostitutes who were charged in court last year for loitering with intent in Albert Town proves that police patrols are constant and on-going. But a stronger police presence is needed if we want to seriously clamp down on this problem,” he said.

According to Mr Debono who was first elected mayor of Marsa in 1994, the Law Courts should place more people facing prostitution charges on probation orders, which for him might go a long way in helping to decrease the levels of prostitution around Albert Town.

“There are various factors why people prostitute themselves. Some do it to fuel their drug habit, others do it to because they are pushed by others, while most do it because they are desperate for money and know no better. What saddens everyone is that there are even some who are caught prostituting who are underage.

“Whatever the case, I tend to refer to these people as victims of society. They need help, and in my opinion, prison is not the ideal punishment. Placing more prostitutes on probation orders, and providing them with more opportunities to attend counselling sessions, will go a long way in helping their lives take a turn for the better”.

Mr Debono also attributes the Open Centre as a main factor which has contributed to a rise in prostitution in Marsa, and calls on the open centre’s management to show a stronger system of control.

“Before people start accusing me of being xenophobic, I beg for people to understand the frustration of Marsa’s residents.

“Although the Marsa open centre is large enough to accommodate around 400 migrants at most, there have been times in the past where 1,000 people have resided in the open centres.

“Such problems are well documented, and although they subsided over the past two years, the latest arrival of migrants is going to put more pressure on the Marsa open centre and on the village itself.

“We have heard countless stories of how uncomfortable life in the open centre can be for some migrants. But while a lot of migrants do their best to carve out a living for themselves and their dependents, others are nothing but trouble makers.

“For instance, every morning, four garbage bags filled with empty beer cans are collected from outside the open centre. Of course, how else are some expected to pass away the day’s time, if they have nothing else to do?

“Moreover, those who are desperate for money do solicit in public places. I challenge everyone who disagrees with my opinion to take a walk around the streets of Albert Town on any night of the week and see for themselves. Whether some migrants do so because they are pushed by others is something different. Whatever the case they, just like others, also need help,” Mr Debono said.

The Marsa local council is not responsible for the open centre per se, but for its boundaries.

“The open centre has put a lot of pressure on our locality. I reiterate: I am not against having migrants living in Marsa and I am not critical of the individual, but of the system. That a lot of migrants are still ostracised by society is ridiculous.

“But the effort has to come from both parties. To be fair, most migrants are at a loss over what to do in Malta as soon as they land on the island. Why shouldn’t there be an information office, some classrooms and a small clinic within the open centre, to facilitate the migrants’ stay in Malta?

“How can us residents communicate with these people and help them out if most of them can barely string two sentences together in English?” he asks.

Marsa’s future

For Mr Debono, the industrialisation of Marsa has contributed a great deal to the locality’s problems.

“The way things stand at the moment, there is a lack of balance between Marsa’s industrial and residential sides. This has led to a decline in the town’s population, which stands at around 6,000 people, the majority of whom are elderly people.

“As a result, most cultural events and mini-festivities organised by the local council are attended by only a few of the youngsters who live in the town.

“The industrialisation of the town has also led to a more polluted Marsa, and the delay in closing down the power station, a never ending saga, has continued to prolong environmental and health concerns for us residents, while several factories continue to emit noxious fumes, much to everyone’s inconvience.

“Furthermore, Marsa has a very high rate of asthma sufferers, and its poor air quality is a major factor,” said Mr Debono.

What is frustrating residents the most is that while other localities in Malta are going through change, Marsa finds itself stuck in a rut.

“A few years ago, it was agreed that drastic action was needed to revive the Cottonera region and improve the living standards of its residents.

“Thanks to this focus and attention, the region is now thriving, just as Valletta will be once works for its regeneration conclude.

“What about Marsa? In the future, will it remain a depressing place to live in, as it sometimes is right now, because of the gravity of its social problems?

“Marsa residents have become highly frustrated with the town’s current state of affairs, but there’s so much the local council can do.

“Let me give an example: The FX Attard Boys' Secondary School, which was set up as a Secondary School eight years ago and formerly attended by around 400 people, is about to close down soon. Despite several queries to the government by the local council, what will come of the building once it stops functioning as a school is anyone’s guess.

“My dream wish is to see this building transformed into a centre of creativity and culture, in a similar mould to the St James Cavalier in Valletta. Marsa is very close to Valletta, and with the capital gearing up to be the European Capital of Culture by 2018, Marsa can, and should, also play a part in the festivities being planned to mark this special occassion,” Mr Debono said.

Plan needed to save Marsa

The last few years has seen Marsa beset by a series of problems. The open centre continues to put pressure on the town’s boundaries, industrialisation has led to a drop in population while the powerstation’s persistent pollution remains a health hazard to residents nearby.

Scores of Marsa residents, Mr Debono comments, regularly complain about the thorny black dust saga, which has been allowed to fester throughout the years and which damages the facades of scores of houses.

Moreover, last year, an unbearable stench caused by carcasses which were almost literally left cooking in the heat, after the Marsa incinerator near the abattoir stopped working for 12 days, disturbed the residents and workers at Albert Town in Marsa for several days.

“As Marsa’s mayor, I feel that a plan is needed to help revive the town and improve the lives of its residents. According to the latest NSO statistics, there are more people living off social benefits in Marsa and in our neighbours Hamrun and Valletta, then anywhere else in Malta.

“Nevertheless, with careful planning and commitment, I firmly believe that Marsa can return as one of Malta’s major towns. The local council’s new premises, works on which are expected to finish by the end of this year, to the tune of €500,000, will surely give the locality a much needed boost, since the new premises will host a library, a conference and a handful of classrooms, which will be used by teachers for those schoolchildren who want to improve their education after school hours,” Mr Debono concludes.

Profile

• 52-years-old

• Is a full-time photographer, besides being the Marsa mayor

• Born and bred in Marsa

• Is married and has one daughter, who will soon graduate as lawyer

• His hobbies, besides photography, include politics and international current affairs

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