The Malta Independent 15 October 2021, Friday

Long-standing problem tackled

Noel Grima Sunday, 19 September 2021, 09:00 Last update: about 28 days ago

Readers of my Sunday contributions must remember the many times I have written about the degrading law and order situation in some Hamrun areas whose character has drastically changed over recent years.

This is the area around the Boy Scouts HQ, round the corner from Roberta Metsola's office. Cars were stopping in the road and double parking became the norm.

The focus seemed to be an ethnic barber shop which remained open at all hours, even in the depth of the pandemic lockdown.

To be fair, the shop and its clients never had any problem with the residents, as such and they did try, in their own way, to curb the haphazard parking problem.

The people of the area, however, never stopped asking for help from the authorities, the local police up to and including the topmost politicians on the island. They got scant and haphazard attention. On some rare occasions the police or LESA officials would stop and remove the traffic obstacles but on many many other occasions residents would fume as they watched police cars from the nearby station sail serenely by, skirting the traffic jam.

Now something seems to have happened. Earlier this week the police carried out a long and extended raid on the aforementioned mentioned shop, taking out with them bagfuls of things, watched by some worried customers as they did so. Since then the shop has remained shut.

Order has been restored, at least temporarily. One would assume that the police investigations are continuing and any law infractions get what they deserve.

This area of Hamrun, roughly from the square to Blata l-Bajda, has seen its character completely changed in the space of a few years. Along with Marsa, it is unrecognisable to those who remember how the areas were just a few years ago.

This sliding wave of multiculturalism happened without any planning or control, aided by the fact that many owners of barely adequate if not outright substandard properties were only too glad to rent them out. Nor were they hindered by any rules about taking in more people in the same unit, if there are any rules on this subject at all.

This is what happens, more or less, in other countries. Many Maltese must have had the same experience when they were penniless migrants in the UK in years gone by. But policing there is now much more robust.

The situation in Malta now is the result of the policies encouraged by the present Minister of Finance when he headed Jobsplus and urged the country to take in more and more people as the solution to the country's economic problems. I have been arguing that this is no solution at all. There have been migrants and new residents even before this Jobsplus suggestion.

We now have websites that inform people about any changes in the procedures regarding deep red countries, vaccination required, quarantine rules and job opportunities. They all encourage people to live together (ie with people not from their immediate family group) to be able to afford the high rent.

Hence not just Hamrun or Marsa but also Bugibba, St Julian's and practically everywhere.

This is why all this multiculturalism needs proper policing if it's not to degenerate into lawlessness.

The Hamrun example I mentioned at the beginning may not have been doing anything illegal or criminal, for all we know. It could have been just an unofficial community centre for people from that ethnicity. This is a very useful task - to help newcomers face the initial problems regarding accommodation, getting the right papers, etc.

There are various groups doing this, from religious groups to self-help ones but we must always emphasize the importance of open contact with the official levels, an open-door approach that benefits all and does not end in isolation.

We are where we are now, a country with manifold ethnicities and we look like we will be so for the coming years. Hence the importance now and increasingly in the future of establishing bridges, contacts with the increasing minorities.

Speaking in a very generic sense, I can see very few bridges like this. On the religious level, there are some close links between the Catholic community and some Catholic or Christian communities like the Ethiopians but little or nothing else with others.

More than this voluntary level, I argue and encourage bridges to be established between these communities and the local authorities. Apart from grumbling at the "invasion", the local councils do not seem to have any contact (even while employing many eg in rubbish collection).

We, the entire nation, can only benefit from this.

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