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Tuesday, 3 August 2010


Arononon Touray was looking at his friend cycling on the Hal Far road leading towards Birzebbuga when, without warning, a pick-up truck pulled up next to the cyclist. A group of young men got out of the pick-up, approached his friend, shoved him to the ground, laughing heartily as they did so, then sped away moments later as if they had done nothing out of the ordinary. It was this and other similar incidents of discrimination that prompted Mr Touray and other migrants in Malta to join forces and form a ‘network’ to fight for their rights. Migrant communities, which include Somalis, Eritreans, Sudanese and Ivorians, have been meeting for the past four months to discuss their most pressing issues before yesterday’s launch of the network for equality, Mr Touray explained. Besides sending a letter to Justice and Home Affairs Minister Carm Mifsud Bonnici calling him to address some of the most pertinent issues in their quest for equality, the migrants’ network also said that they are in the process of writing to Cecilia Malmstrom, the EU’s Commissioner for Home Affairs, to highlight the plight of migrants in Malta.

Speaking on behalf of the group at yesterday’s launch in the Common Room of the university, Mr Touray said that “migrants are still heavily discriminated against in Malta, simply because we have a different skin colour. “In the time we have spent living here, we have met countless persons who were kind to us and treated us as equals. “However, others are treating us like second class citizens. On several occasions we have been subjected to verbal abuse, refused the right to board a bus, denied the right to rent an apartment and have had to work in appalling conditions, simply because of our skin colour. “To compound matters, we have to deal with attacks from those who cannot control their racial hatred towards us and several of us have been beaten up, the most tragic one being Suleiman Abubaker, who lost his life in Paceville after allegedly being beaten by a bouncer and passers-by,” said Mr Touray. A few months later another friend of Mr Touray’s committed suicide because he could no longer tolerate the constant hardship he endured throughout his difficult life.

In the letter to Dr Mifsud Bonnici, the migrants outlined some of the struggles they have had to face on a day-to-day basis, and put forward a set of proposals for the government to consider “if it really wants the migrant community in Malta to achieve total equality”. Supported by 12 NGOs, which include the General Workers Union, Moviment Graffiti, Friends of the Earth, and 26 university academics among whom are Alternattiva Demokratika leader Michael Brigulio, Head of Sociology Department Mark-Anthony Falzon and philosopher Joseph Friggieri, the letter highlights six main issues that the migrants’ network feels the government should tackle immediately. These include clamping down on discrimination, stepping up the asylum application process that would grant migrants the right to move to other EU countries, and more assistance to migrants to help them find adequate accommodation and employment. “We urge the Maltese government to reopen the debate in the European Parliament to discuss the granting of rights to travel, live and work in EU countries for people with protection, since Malta was the only country which opposed this proposal in December 2008. We believe that granting such rights could help tackle some of the negative effects of the Dublin Regulation as it would, at least, make it possible for some people to go and live in other EU countries,” added Mr Touray, quoting from the letter address to Dr Mifsud Bonnici.

Unemployment rights and ‘miserable open centre conditions’

For Alidu Osman, another spokesperson of the migrants’ network, a further pressing social issue that needs changing is the migrants’ right to unemployment benefits. “We think that people who have been working and who have paid at least 50 National Insurance contributions over a period of two years or less should be given the right, as the Maltese are, to receive unemployment benefits,” he said. Around this time last year, migrants protested, albeit peacefully, that they could no longer endure living conditions in the Marsa and Hal Far open centres. When asked whether last year’s protests had reaped rewards, Mr Osman replied: “Conditions did improve, albeit for a short while, but now the situation has returned to the way it was before the protests, and life is now again as miserable as it was before. “To add insult to injury, a fire in one of the hangars at Hal Far last May has further worsened living conditions. The government has to realise that putting scores of migrants in a desolate aircraft hangar is simply not a feasible long term option,” he said. It was also wrong and unjust to divide migrants into two groups, commented Mr Osman, when asked to give his views on the recent group of migrants who were sent back to Libya while some of those who had travelled with them on the same boat were allowed to stay in Malta.

“Most of us have done our utmost to escape from countries torn by civil war and unrest. For the majority, the only option was to make our way to Libya and escape from there. The group of migrants who are now back in Libya are probably doomed to a life of more struggle and hardship,” said Mr Osman. Taking into consideration such factors, it is no wonder that migrants do everything to escape from Malta, at times even illegally, Moviment Graffiti spokesperson André Callus said yesterday. “Many of those who are caught attempting to flee from Malta with invalid documentation are sent back and when charged and arraigned in court with the offence, are given a minimum six-month jail term. This, all the NGOs feel, is a gross injustice, since it is often the case that suspended sentences are handed down by magistrates to people who commit an illegal act for the first time,” stated Mr Callus.

Malta Independant