Stop this ‘us v them’ mentality: activist Caroline Galea on the lessons of the Lamin incident

Activist Caroline Galea tells Laura Calleja of the shocking moment she found construction worker Jaiteh Lamin left for dead on Selmun road

Left to right: Jaiteh Lamin was left on the side of the road after a construction accident, Activist Caroline Galea
Left to right: Jaiteh Lamin was left on the side of the road after a construction accident, Activist Caroline Galea

On the fateful day when the 32-year-old Jaiteh Lamin, a Gambian construction worker, had been left for dead at Selmun, activist Caroline Galea had been walking home with her friend when she spotted three people standing over the injured Jaiteh.

“I assumed that he was dehydrated, so I jumped out of the car to offer water. It transpired he had actually been in a workplace accident and dumped on the side of the road by his employer rather than being taken to hospital,” Galea recalls.

The discovery of the injured worker shocked the island. Lamin had been injured in a two-storey fall. But his employer, J&G Farrugia Construction owner Glenn Farrugia decided to dump Jaiteh on the road at Selmun instead of taking him to Mater Dei Hospital. Since then, Jaiteh had to be treated for a spinal and arm injury after the two-storey fall. Farrugia now stands accused of causing grievous bodily harm to the migrant worker. The anger at the lack of compassion has led to a demonstration by migrant workers whose irregular status in Malta, despite years of work and payment of taxes, still leaves them bereft of any rights.

“We’ve had centuries of brainwashing through misrepresented history, dangerous vocabulary, film and irresponsible reporting, which has now led to a very dangerous ‘us and them’ mentality when it comes to people experiencing migration and displacement,” says Galea, an activist who is passionate about gender issues, women’s rights, LGBTQIA+ issues, the climate crisis, and ethnic and economic inequality issues. Her main focus has been animal rights, as a member of Animal Liberation Malta.

Recalling the day she stopped to help Lamin, Galea says she then wanted to ensure he did not move and to keep him breathing and calm as possible, finding him in a bad state and in a lot of pain. “I wanted to reassure him that he was not alone and I held his hand whilst he repeatedly said ‘I don’t want to die’ and ‘help me, help me’. When the police and ambulance arrived, I moved out of their way and began to record images as I knew this would be important evidence later on.”

With her friend, the photo-journalist Joanna Demarco, Galea circulated the story with the media. “What happened to Jaiteh was not an isolated incident. If no one had found him, it would probably have gone unreported as most cases do.”

Between 2018-2020 there have been ten known fatal accidents in the construction industry – all the victims were people who had migrated to Malta. “As I’ve come to find out, many cases go unreported due to blackmailing or fear from the victim that it will affect their documentation negatively. Imagine how many people have been exploited, hurt, or died from events like this that could have been easily avoided. Enough is enough. Things need to change,” Galea said.

Galea had been given a sharp, unsettlingly reality check. “I know that most of Malta was quite affected by the footage of Jaiteh in the awful state he was in, as was I. I think part of me still can’t quite wrap my head around it, whilst a small part of me was sad, not as surprised as I ought to have been.”

Galea said that unfortunately the response was “predictably, divided”. On one had she was comforted by the outcry and anger from so many Maltese who saw the video as “a symptom of a bigger cultural and systemic problem”.

However, on the other hand there was a section of Maltese society who confronted by the visceral pleas of a badly-injured man fighting for his life, “chose to laugh and mock him because of a different skin tone.”

“I knew that a larger conversation needed to happen. I wasn’t completely unaware of the exploitation that workers in the construction industry were facing, but I had no true grasp on how bad the situation is here. Witnessing Jaiteh, and hearing his pleas, humanised him in a way we have been conditioned not to,” Galea explained.

Lamin has since then been discharged from the hospital, and he continues to recover at home with support. “His psychological state is somewhat better, but of course, this kind of traumatic experience will take time to heal from, not just physically but emotionally,” Galea says.

The activist says Lamin has immense gratitude for the support he received from the Maltese public with donations for his healthcare and livelihood, which will help support him, his wife, two kids and his mother, who is ill.

A protest will be held on 30 October at 11am in Valletta at the Triton Fountain to raise awareness once again on human rights, Galea said.

“Our world has been fractured by one division after another. It divides us as people and benefits those who wish to manipulate and control us. We need to unlearn and look inward. We need to be reminded of our humanity, and we need to stop turning our back on people who are hurting; who are trying to survive in a world that has been set up to oppress them continually.

“It’s time to see Malta working together, alongside interest groups, to stop the ‘us vs them’ mentality which has plagued the island.”