Between having to wake up at 3am to walk to work, or having to fish out scraps of food from bins to eat, Olandu’s experience living in Malta is no different to the experiences of other asylum seekers, third-country nationals and undocumented migrants residing here.
Earlier this year a group of asylum seekers were expelled from the Marsa and Ħal Far open centres and resorted to sleeping at Triton Fountain Square in Valletta, while last year a group of 156 migrants were discovered to be living in an abandoned hotel in Buġibba.
Migrant workers are also subject to the poorest working conditions that our economy has to offer. Olandu was assaulted by his boss after only being compensated €250 for 191 hours worth of work, and another migrant worker fell three storeys on a construction site but was forced by his boss to lie and say he was hit by a car.
This is why Olandu’s case is only one visible symptom of an otherwise hidden systemic issue that the government refuses to act on.
Refugees often lack the most basic human necessities needed to live and work in Malta, and the perception of migrants as lawless deviants fails to acknowledge how poverty and crime are intrinsically linked.
A common sentiment is that increased police presence is necessary in areas like Ħamrun and Marsa in order to combat crime committed by migrants, and relocation efforts are needed to ensure Malta’s carrying capacity is not strained – but these arguments rest on fallacious reasoning.
Crime does not disappear with the presence of police in the streets, and Malta’s carrying capacity increases as the government improves existing infrastructure.
If the government is serious about tackling these issues, they need to invest resources in the local migrant community. While the government spent €1 million in a matter of weeks on the private security alone for those makeshift floating detention centres this year, Budget figures show that the Agency for Welfare of Asylum Seekers only receive €8 million a year.
Open centres are overcrowded and unhygienic, but the government would rather spend money to prevent refugees from ever setting foot in Malta than to improve on existing open centre infrastructure.
While we receive a lot of overall EU funding, the money received from the European Refugee Fund leaves more to be desired. It would be in the government’s best interest to lobby for more EU funding to help improve our open centres instead of using the cash to co-finance projects like Central Link.
Every migrant that has to resort to crime or dangerous jobs is the result of policy failure.
The government needs to set up more open centres to avoid overcrowding, and existing open centres should have the appropriate infrastructures in place to ensure that every resident can live a sufficient life. Further to this, open centres should not be limited to two or three areas but instead spread out to avoid ghettoisation and shocks to the local community.
Schemes should also be put in place to ensure that migrants leaving open centres have access to decent housing and a job that provides a living wage.
This shouldn’t just apply to migrants either – there are many Maltese workers who are paid low wages and struggle to pay rent, and are as deserving of decent housing and work as anyone else. If our existing infrastructure isn’t enough to keep immigrants on their feet, the Maltese will suffer just as much.
Many Maltese fall into the trap of thinking that immigrants keep wages low for everyone. In reality, rising capital and land costs force employers to keep their labour costs as low as possible, and will resort to outsourcing or off-the-book hiring to avoid making these costs any higher.
The Maltese economy runs on cheap labour and poor industry regulations, but the government uses migration as a scapegoat to hide the fact that it is only interested in registering high GDP growth and low levels of unemployment, with no concern for the realities faced by Malta’s working population.
Discussing migration in Facebook comment sections won’t convince the government to take any action either. More pressure needs to be put on the authorities to address the ails of the migrant community – crowdfunding and job offers can only go so far.