Teenagers sleeping rough in Valletta fear endless cycle of unemployment

Underage migrants fear getting stuck in endless cycle of unemployment and homelessness

 

Ali Muhammad, one of several asylum seekers who say they have no State accommodation since arriving in Malta
Ali Muhammad, one of several asylum seekers who say they have no State accommodation since arriving in Malta

Homeless underage migrants are living around the Triton fountain square in Valletta, after getting kicked out from the Hal Far open centre without money or shelter.

The asylum seekers, who have been living on the streets of the capital for around two weeks, told MaltaToday they have been forced to live on the bare minimum, waiting for people to give them food or money to make it through the day.

Mohammed Ahmad, aged 17
Mohammed Ahmad, aged 17

Sudanese Mohamed Ahmad, aged just 17, said he has been unable to find a job after getting kicked out of the reception centre, and said he feared being stuck in the endless cycle of unemployment and homelessness.

“Every time I go to apply for a job, employers don’t want me because of my age. I don’t know what I’m going to do,” he said. “I’m just 17, I have no family and I have nothing here. I’m scared,” Ahmad said.

Adai Abubaker, from Sudan
Adai Abubaker, from Sudan

Another asylum seeker from Sudan, Ali Muhammad, conveyed the hopelessness of his friends living on the street. “We have been here for two weeks. First police told us we can’t stay here. I told them I would be happy to leave if I had a place to stay, but where should I go?” he said.

“No one here is happy. All we need is to find a job, but as time goes by it is becoming even harder for us,” he said.

Muhammad said that on alternating days, half the group spends the morning looking for jobs across the island, while the other half stays put and protects the few belongings they have. “We only have each other here, we are each other’s family.”

Umar Isa, from Chad
Umar Isa, from Chad

Every three days or so, the homeless migrants bathe in the surrounding sea, as basic facilities are not available to them. “What am I supposed to do? We sometimes pick food and rubbish from the skips here. You think I’m going to bother washing in the sea?” he said.

Despite the hardship, Muhammad still has hope for the future, conveying his wish at being successful in life and helping others like him. “I don’t want others to pass through what I am passing through now. During the day it’s hot, during the night it’s cold. No one should have to do this,” he said.

The asylum seekers claim they have been prohibited from staying at the open centre
The asylum seekers claim they have been prohibited from staying at the open centre

Another 18-year-old migrant told MaltaToday he had planned to make the crossing to Europe with his brother, who has been imprisoned in Libya for trying to flee the country. Umar Isa, from Chad, recounted the perilous journey he had to take to reach Libyan shores. Isa said that he and his brother had to first cross the Libyan border from the southern tip of the country through the Sahara desert, before spending a year in Libya waiting for a boat heading to Europe.

“My brother was apprehended just before we left. In fact, I had already left on another boat. My brother’s boat was intercepted,” he said.

Isa’s brother is now being kept in a Libyan prison, and will only be released against monetary payment. “I haven’t spoken to him since the capture,” he said.

The asylum seekers said that generally people have been helpful, giving them food and drink, although they occasionally hear someone shouting ‘go back to your country’ from a cowardly distance. “One time, in the early morning, someone threw an empty water bottle at us as we slept.”

The Agency for the Welfare of Asylum Seekers (AWAS) has said it did not evict any migrants from its open centres as migrants are provided temporary accommodation for a specific period of time, a spokesperson for the Home Affairs Ministry said.

The procedure has been in place since the inception of migrant centres in Malta, as migrants are only expected to leave the open centre upon the expiry of a contract.

Irregular migrants are admitted to an initial reception centre where all documentation is processed. Soon after a contract is set up between the State and the migrants for them to reside in one of Malta’s open centres, typically lasting nine months. During this time, the migrants are encouraged to find a job and alternative housing. The only exceptions to this process are vulnerable migrants who reside at the centre for a longer period than other migrants.

Migrants may also consider applying for assisted voluntary return to the country of origin and benefit from a reintegration grant.

Integra Foundation Director Maria Pisani however has commented that the systems in place to integrate migrants into society are flawed. “The problem in itself is systemic and it has been made worse this year with the increase in the number of arrivals and COVID-19… The issue of transition from the open centre to life in the community has been an issue that was never addressed in a concrete or competent way,” she told The Malta Independent.

Migrants still face barriers to legal and regular employment. “They also face exploitation in the labour market, which is also compounded with racism, something that they also have to deal with finding access to housing. If they don’t have any material or financial support they cannot afford housing anyway since they don't have a regular income,” Pisani said.

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