When Singh came to Europe on a student visa, he couldn’t wait to build a proper future.
Having left his rural hometown in Punjab, India, an area wracked by farmers’ protests and government crackdowns, Singh, aged 24, was getting ready to make something of his life in a country that allowed freedom of expression and offered a good quality of life.
He travelled to Paris, was left in wonder by the Eiffel Tower, and came to Malta to work, full of plans – above anything else, he wanted to open his own recruitment company in Malta and make it easier to connect employers with employees.
Soon enough, he found a job in a restaurant as a kitchen helper in a leading fast food chain in Malta – and things were going great.
Until Singh had an accident at work one day, setting off a chain of events that would leave him alone, injured and hopeless.
“One day, I was fixing the screws on our beef patty machine,” Singh told Lovin Malta in an exclusive interview. “I put my hands in to see if the screw was tied in correctly or not. I needed to check if the mechanism was working and whether it was stuck or not – the plate wasn’t working well.”
“Suddenly, my fingers became stuck inside.”
Next thing he knew, blood was spurting in the machine.
“It was my two fingers on my left hand,” he recounted. “They took me to the emergency department, but I couldn’t look down because the bones were out.”
At Mater Dei Hospital, Singh recounted a doctor telling him: “we are sorry for your fingers, they will not come again”.
“I just said: it’s ok, at least I have my hand.”
Showing Lovin Malta his hand, the upper parts of his index and middle fingers were visibly damaged.
“It was a very messy scene,” he continued. “They operated on me the next day because they just placed a plaster on me at first. But then I went home and slept, and when I woke up my pillow was full of blood from my fingers. So I told my boss and the manager came and took me to Mater Dei again.”
Singh has words of praise for his employer.
“The boss kept texting me and checking up on me. He was a very gentle person. I didn’t work for three weeks because I was in quite a lot of pain.”
Singh had been working while living in Malta with a student visa. When he was employed, Singh says his employer said that they’d change his visa to a working visa, to allow him to stay beyond the three-month student visa period.
Eventually, after returning to work, the manager called him in to talk.
“One day my shift ended and they told me to work more that evening. I replied, by saying that my shift had just ended. They told me that if I didn’t work more, they’d fire me. And they did – one week before my student visa ended.”
Suddenly unemployed, Singh realised his visa was soon going to run out. He had started to build the life he wanted – he had even adopted a puppy and met a woman and began a relationship – but he would soon have major issues if he remained in the country.
“It was a very hard time for me, and I began having issues with my partner. She wanted me to go back to the country she was from – Colombia – to meet her mother, but I knew I didn’t have a visa anymore, and she didn’t know that yet.”
His partner went back to Colombia, taking their dog with her.
“I told her to take him because I had no papers and was becoming very scared for my future.”
Eventually, he found out his partner had met someone else back in Colombia and left him, keeping their dog.
Singh knew he needed to do something, so he began looking for work again, but this time it was much harder since he didn’t have any papers to support him.
“I found a job in a school canteen, but the employer knew I had no papers. He told me he would pay me €5.50 an hour… but then he began paying me €4 an hour, so I quit.”
Then, he entered the construction industry – but once again, found himself not being paid the amount he had been promised.
“I was working morning to evening, not paying taxes, no protections, and paid less than I was told – and one day I told the boss it wasn’t fair what he was doing to us. I shouted at him angrily.”
“The next day, he gave me a cheque and I was fired again.”
Singh had hoped to build a life in Malta, and use it as a base to travel to some of Europe’s most beautiful cities, cities he had seen growing up and that he always wanted to visit.
“I used to travel a lot, but now I am scared because if I do, I’ll be sent home, back to the protests and the police arresting everyone.”
Singh knows he overstayed his visa – but his once attainable dream of proving himself in Malta through hard work and respect for the country seems more and more impossible by the day.
Far from wanting to break Malta’s laws, Singh wanted to abide by them. But through a series of abusive employers and lack of protections for vulnerable workers, Singh is now afraid of doing anything out of fear he’ll be caught and sent back to Punjab.
He currently has a job – “but it’s always the same, without papers, you always feel insecure and end up getting paid less.”
“I don’t want compensation for my fingers or the work I did or anything – I just want to pay taxes, get an ID card and find a company ready to provide me a decent contract.”
“I am very serious – I’ve done several courses and studied at a University in Poland. I dream of speaking to the authorities for help – but they will send me back, and I am afraid of that.”
“I’ve been here for four years now – and I haven’t been able to save a single penny. It’s heartbreaking – I used to be a joyful person. But now, now I am a very quiet person.”