Pushing people into precariousness

Pushing people into precariousness, as THPn removal will be doing, is actually about pushing them into exploitative relations

Criminalised: Malian migrants now slated for deportation after years of being tolerated in the country are escorted out of court and into a prison van
Criminalised: Malian migrants now slated for deportation after years of being tolerated in the country are escorted out of court and into a prison van

In November last year the Ministry for Home Affairs unexpectedly announced that it had decided to remove the status of Temporary Humanitarian Protection-new (THPn). This news has left THPn holders, their families and their friends incredulous and scared.

For migrants with a THPn status it means that after so many years of living in Malta and making every effort to build a normal life, they will once again be thrown in complete precariousness. Without THPn, they might lose their jobs, they will find it very hard to rent a place and their children will be placed in legal limbo. They will, most likely, still continue to live in Malta, since deportation is not feasible in most cases (and God forbid that) but this time with scantier rights and protection. All THPn holders will be hit hard by this measure, but it will be truly devastating for vulnerable groups such as children, older people and people with mental health issues. Removal of the THPn is a cruel and socially unjust bureaucratic measure that will achieve zilch. 

First, what’s THPn? This was a status given by the Refugee Commissioner granting a degree of protection to migrants who had not obtained other forms of protection (such as refugee status or subsidiary protection), but had been living and working in Malta for a number of years and had demonstrated that they were learning the language. THPn fell far short of offering proper rights and protection to migrants who had built their lives in Malta. It was given quite arbitrarily and had to be renewed every year, leaving them in a position which was insecure on many levels. However, it did provide a modicum of stability and normalcy. For instance, people with THPn could travel for short periods of time and had an employment licence which gave them the right to work. 

It now seems that these basic rights essential for a dignified living will cease to exist for people with THPn. The minister’s statement that this very basic protection is not being removed, but only transferred to Identity Malta’s remit under a new regime, is a half-truth verging on a lie.

The minister omits the fact that to qualify for regularisation under the new regime people will now have to meet impossible criteria that effectively disqualify most THPn holders. For instance, they will be required to bring an identification document from their country of origin. For most THPn holders, this is simply not possible. Governments in their countries of origin often refuse to release such documents to people who have fled the country and, many of whom, are critical of their countries’ regimes and political systems.

This awful treatment of migrant workers contrasts sharply with how representatives of the party in government, which once claimed to be the workers’ party, salivate at the idea of billionaires buying Maltese citizenship, and with the narrative they deploy hailing the virtues of the greedy one percent – the global rich. Simultaneously, those who are victims of this unjust global system and its obscene unequal distribution of wealth – migrant workers – are being stripped of their rights and rendered more vulnerable to exploitation. 

This is a point worth underlining. Pushing migrant workers to the margins, jeopardizing their right to demand decent working conditions, facilitates their exploitation. The result is that lower working-conditions and payment kick in for all. This is why far-right statements such as “Maltese workers FIRST” are vacuous and harmful to all workers, not just migrants. The moment a wedge is driven between workers, on the basis of their nationality or other characteristics, the power of all workers is diminished. As the old slogan goes, united we stand, divided we fall. 

One should, however, try to understand Maltese workers’ concern with migration instead of dismissing it as irrational or based solely on prejudice. My impression is that such worries are partly related to feelings of insecurity brought about by a form of globalisation that increases inequalities and precariousness in our lives. Migrants are not at fault for these processes, but they constitute a tangible and visible form of global flows upon which such insecurities are very easily projected, especially if those in power actively spread a fear of migrants.

Nonetheless, it is important to address Maltese workers’ concern about migrant exploitation and its impact on employment. But let’s keep in mind that exploitation has never been resolved by blaming the exploited (and there are many groups which suffer exploitation, not just migrants). What effectively reduces exploitation are more rights and protection.

Pushing people into precariousness, as THPn removal will be doing, is actually about pushing them into exploitative relations. To stop exploitation and attain better conditions for everyone, we desperately need more solidarity among workers; a collective demand for better wages and work-conditions as well as the enactment and enforcement of laws against abuse in employment. 

THPn removal is one of those measures that exacerbate social tensions and create deprivation. It won’t benefit anyone except those who prey on vulnerable groups. Sadly, Malta is not alone in pursuing policies against workers and the most vulnerable. If we look at the world around us, we see that inequality levels are growing, workers are losing rights they have earned through hard-fought struggles, conflicts are becoming more vicious and xenophobic sentiments are on the rise.

I firmly believe that only solidarity can save us in these depressing times.

Andre’ Callus is a Moviment Graffitti activist ([email protected])