Cultivating hope for refugee communities | Samar Mazloum

UNHCR recognizes the disproportionate challenge that arrivals by sea pose to a frontline state like Malta

Mohamed Ibrahim, a refugee who arrived to Malta from Sudan and set up his own business on the island: ‘If you give love, people will love you’
Mohamed Ibrahim, a refugee who arrived to Malta from Sudan and set up his own business on the island: ‘If you give love, people will love you’

World Refugee Day is an international day designated by the United Nations to honour refugees around the globe. It falls each year on 20 June and celebrates the strength and courage of people who have been forced to flee their home country to escape conflict or persecution.

It is, of course, a commemoration that is to be approached with a necessary degree of sobriety. While World Refugee Day also happily paves the way for many engaging and often joyous cultural events and festivities – and our office is proud of its own – its underlying message is built on a recognition of hardship, resilience and the crucial need for solidarity.

Today, roughly 35 million refugees are forced to live in uncertainty, with the world offering resettlement spots for less than 1 percent of the most vulnerable refugees.

But it doesn’t have to be like this. The theme for this year’s edition of World Refugee Day is ‘Hope Away from Home’, and through its role as an empowering agent for both refugees and host communities, UNHCR Malta, stands ready to support all those determined to work in good faith to find both immediate and lasting solutions for refugees and asylum seekers.

Malta, being a small island state located in the Central Mediterranean, has been no stranger to the challenges posed by migration flows. In fact, the island hosts the highest number of refugees per capita in Europe. UNHCR recognizes the disproportionate challenge that arrivals by sea pose to a frontline state like Malta. Which is why we are encouraged by the progress made on the EU Migration Pact, which validates the need for increased support for countries like Malta among fellow EU Member States.

While we understand that the recent agreements may fall short of certain expectations, we still hope that the process will result in a more predictable and fairer approach to handling Search and Rescue in the region.

While awaiting a favourable outcome of the discussions on the Pact, UNHCR continues to advocate for proactive Search and Rescue measures, urging the government and armed forces to remain vigilant in monitoring and coordinating rescues for boats in distress. Sending people back to unsafe countries can never be a viable solution, all the more so when opportunities for integration do exist.

Given that UNHCR estimates show that Malta hosts 8,848 beneficiaries of international protection and approximately 2,052 asylum seekers, it becomes all the more crucial to explore pro-active options for the successful inclusion of refugees and asylum-seekers into the host community. While certain strands of the media narrative and political rhetoric may occasionally lead us to believe otherwise, successful integration stories abound in Malta.

As was made evident in a recent video project initiated by our office, ‘Making Malta Home’, Malta has hosted a number of refugees who have not only found shelter on the island, but have become beloved, thriving members of the community. One example is Mohamed Ibrahim, a Sudanese business owner, whose simple yet powerful message is that “if you give love, people will love you”. Or Syrian carpenter Anas, who continues to ply his family trade with pride in his new home country, stating that, “I would never want to live anywhere else… Malta is my home”.

Poignantly, the Ukrainian community was also featured in the video series. Apart from highlighting the commendable support that the community has received from both the government and the host community in Malta following the outbreak of the war in February 2022, by featuring three different participants who arrived in Malta during different time periods, the video shows how refugee communities are not made up of merely transient persons. Instead, they consist of people who have forged a link to Malta, each in their own way.

It is for this reason also, that UNHCR Malta welcomes the launch of the second integration policy, whose draft is now open for public consultation. It is encouraging to note that this crucial document is informed by the principles of mainstreaming, multi-level governance and intersectionality. In this way, it recognizes diversity while also fostering a holistic approach to integration. By providing the necessary conditions for refugees and asylum-seekers to actively participate in the host community, we enable them to transcend the limitations imposed by their past traumatic experiences.

Coupled with more intimate, communal measures of support and solidarity, it is through such initiatives that ‘hope away from home’ can truly be fostered for refugees and asylum seekers in Malta.

Because ultimately, the cost of exclusion is far higher than the cost of inclusion.

Samar Mazloum is UNHCR representative to Malta