Asylum seekers fear for health of women, children inside Hal Far hangar [SLIDESHOW]

The old airplane hangar at Hal Far is serving as an open centre for asylum seekers, but residents say it's dangerous, as squalid conditions make it especially threatening for children as young as four months old.

Text, photography by Martina Said

The first thing to welcome visitors is undoubtedly the pungent smell of the domestic sewage, with dirty pools of water gathered in gutters around the hangar. This, combined with dirty floors and the absence of mattresses, is of serious concern to 35-year-old Ethiopian Dawit Metamu, speaking on behalf of the residents inside the Hal Far hangar - a makeshift open centre for asylum seekers.

Dawit arrived in Malta from Libya on 29 March, where he was subsequently detained and finally placed at the Hal Far open centre, three days ago, along with a group of families which have been removed from detention.

“All the children here are under four years old, the youngest one four months old and another six months. In the night it is cold here, there is garbage close to our tents, a smell of sewage, dirty toilets and rats,” he claimed.

Dawit says children sit and frolic on the dirty floor, as young children do, then put their hands in their mouths and get sick. “The floor is not just covered in dust but also with gasoline which is flammable and very dangerous.”

To show just how grimy the floor is, a mother puts her young child on the floor and lets her muck around, lifting her up again to show her small blue jeans turned grey with dirt.

Helen Weldemicael, 23, mother to a six-month old child, explains how the living conditions at the hangar are  especially hazardous to her following the birth of her child in Libya by Caesarean-section. She has a prescription for medicine from the Floriana Health Centre, but nobody at the hangar has told her anything about how to go about obtaining the medication she needs.

One of the greatest complaints of residents at the hangar is the lack of adequate bedding, with blankets and sheets, but no mattresses, so where they sleep resembles more of a stretcher. Each tent can house a maximum of four persons, but only two beds are available in each tent, so children must share a bed with their parents.

The hangar is also noticeably dark, with only two working ceiling bulbs to light up a considerably large building. “It is very dark inside. Each tent has its own light bulb but only works for two hours, and then has to be charged. All there is in our tent is what we have - no pots, pans, cookers or anything else we need. The kitchen is also very dirty and has to be shared by around 400 people,” Dawit said.

After taking a look at the communal toilets and shower room, which are cut off from the hangar, it is easy to understand why residents complain. Clogged and overflowing sinks and slippery dirty floors must be used by men, women and children alike.

Dawit said: “There are no washing basins where children could be washed, they must use the showers. This is bad for them because the water temperature of the showers cannot be controlled, and they are also dirty.”

The asylum seekers at the hangar, who had been working in Libya but are originally from Ethiopia and Eritrea, say they are grateful to the Maltese for rescuing them and taking care of them on their arrival. “We understand that the Maltese government needs help, the EU has to help, but we never expected to be living like this,” Dawit says.

More in National
avatar
Malta is an island of Italy! as such must be able to be an open society that respects all, provide a decent accommodation for refugees. Hahaha Jhon You don't even know the slightest bit of geography. Go and read your geography books before you write anything stupid again Jhon As for illegal immigrants being treated like criminals, they are criminals because they enter a country illegally without any identification Jhon. Surprised at europe's silence Jhon? Shows you that no one want you or the illegal immigrants Jhon? Don;t you think that you and the illegal immigrants are very arrogant when you want to impose yourselves on those who do NOT want you?
avatar
Whose legs are you trying to pull Jhon? European refugees in Africa? You made my day Jhon As is typical of African illegal immigrants you are also arrogant in calling us ignorant Jhon. As for being eu members we never colonized African countries so no, we shall not share any responsibility for which we have nothing to blame. Who tyold you that we share the eu and us foreign policy? You really do not now what you are saying Jhon. Maybe the government follows some of it but not most of the people. Go on our knees and ask for help from Africa? Keep on dreaming Jhon. But don't worry. One way or the other all illegal immigrants shall leave Malta. Why don't you go to another African country or to the rich oil producing countries in the Middle East? You know why Jhon? Because they do not give you everything free like in Malta and europe. But rest assured that it is not going to last long Jhon. Have a look at http://beta.uk.news.yahoo.com/400-illegal-migrants-rescued-boat-hit-rocks-052631654.html
avatar
HaHa, you see that you are poorly informed, the other African countries have welcomed more refugees from all European countries combined. So on tolerance and acceptance of African countries are much more civil of you Europeans. They have demonstrated in recent months, only Tunisia and Egypt have welcomed're ready for 450, 000 refugees from Libya, they did not scengiata or drama. 25.000 refugees arrived for you Europeans have made an international case, false alarms. The scary thing that I noticed in Malta and the Maltese population in ignorance of immigration. You are members of the European community and then also share the responsibility for better or for worse, I am not aware that Malta is immaculate with no historical or current faults in the international arena, so it made ​​the virgins in office, when you share in full the entire European foreign policy and Americana. Here comes the time that you go in knee to ask for help in Africa then we will see what you say or what to tell your children or grandchildren who will be forced to ask for alms in Africa. Only then you will understand what it means to respect human dignity. Jhon
avatar
Jhon "The refugees are fleeing because wars often also funded by the European countries interested in natural resources such as oil, gas and other minerals." That's why they must not be allowed to come and stay in Malta and should be lumped by those European countries that are exploiting them and funding their wars. We have no finger-in-the-pie like the other European countries and the USA. That's why Malta must renounce to the Refugee Convention and to the EU and its Dublin II Convention. Can you also tell us why they do not go to another African country Jhon? Don't tell us that all African nations are in civil war or fighting each other Jhon.
avatar
If Malta does not want refugees on its territory, Malta should not sign any international covenzione like the Geneva Convention of 1951 on asylum. Malta and member of the United Nations therefore has a duty to respond to oblige and international laws, conventions that have sanctioned the universally recognized rights of man, his freedom of movement, his right to seek asylum in another country. Malta Even if a disaster arrives next day to an earthquake and water bikes, you may be forced to seek asylum in other countries through international law. Then call the Maltese to know read the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, the European treaties on human and civil rights. The refugees are fleeing because wars often also funded by the European countries interested in natural resources such as oil, gas and other minerals. You know what agreements had the Maltese Government with Libya? The Maltese government's foreign policy with countries in Africa as it behaves? putting down of the wars around Africa? Have questions because these people flee from their countries? Europe at that level and those involved in wars in Africa? Easy to attack the poor people that come into your ribs, but it would be better to go to seek the true cause of all this. You will find the real cause of all this are in your countries to ensure the welfare of you, creating terrible conditions in the poorest countries like Africa to plunder natural resources at low cost. Make your change of policy in European countries, which respect the national sovereignty of African countries, and pay the right price to the raw material that they take from these countries, you have no more refugees and migrants arriving, you will indeed to emigrate to Africa.
avatar
I visited the hangar where they placed these families with children, the youngest child was one month old. I noticed all kids are evil have the same symptoms of vomiting and stomach ache, have hurt his eyes. I saw ingiro for the field of dead rats. Now I understand the Maltese town how many of you would live in those conditions? Qualle criminal mind has decided to place them in the situation which ones? Of the children who are put at risk their health, even the adults living in inhuman conditions. Only a racist population can tolerate a situation like that. A crime that sista consummati on the skin of people who have the right to receive international protection. Malta is a country says "Christian" show that they are false Christians. Keep refugees in detention treating them as criminals and a serious act of racism, in flagrant violation of the law of all international conventions on human rights. I am surprised at the silence of Europe to address this serious human rights violations and civil rights of refugees. Some comments I read here show how racism and ignorance there in Malta. The Maltese should remind themselves that they are all migrants, none of them could say that he was a true and pure Maltese, because there are no pure Maltese or Maltese true if not for the birthright on Maltese soil. Malta is an island of Italy! as such must be able to be an open society that respects all, provide a decent accommodation for refugees.
avatar
The illegal immigrants turn wherever they are into a pigsty within a very short time. Some time ago a number of illegal immigrants were given a new block which had been built for our soldiers and had never been used, but within one week they had wrecked everything and turned it into a veritable pigsty. Are these the people that the do-gooders want to integrate within Maltese society? No way.
avatar
These people should be saved and treated like human beings expecially when one consider that we're locking them here in Malta in the first place (Dublin 2 treaty). On the other hand one must be realistic enough to understand that a small island like Malta with an overpopulation, space and financial problems is not able of successfully integrating thousands of immigrants. I can't understand for example why the government insists of keeping the 175 immigrants we've saved close to Lampedusa in Malta, despite the italian government had admitted his mistake. Im sure that these immigrants would be better off in Italy then in some tent in Malta or in that hangar. I fear that the government's stance of pleasing the EU in every way possible is hindering not only the locals but also the immigrants. This may lead (god forbid) to a 'guerra tra poveri' with the immigrants on one side and the locals on the other.
avatar
Ok Charles...so you are not a Catholic. And myself i prefere to be a tolerant utopist anytime rather than a xenophobic thanks
avatar
Anthony Galea
@ monique Anybody who does not share your utopian dreams is a brainless, self-righteous racist. So typical of self-styled 'tolerant' individuals. You also assume (wrongly) that everybody is Catholic. Personally I would not enter a church for my own funeral, so don't tar everyone with the same brush. Over the past 50 years the Church has been infiltrated by liberal leftists and it is now in free-fall towards eventual extinction. And just as well too.
avatar
Dear Monique you should better check how foreigners where treated in the Papal states before you put christianity in it. Ill urge you to start from the recently beatified Pope Pius IX who kidnapped a jewish kid from his own family and called jews dogs. Its actually very easy for other nations (including religious ones) to criticize when problems are in other countries shores.
avatar
@Godfrey Camilleri: I am very sorry, same as to -RJ goes to you too of course...i almost missed out on your comments in that flood of self-righteous and racist statements listet down below. And i am sure that tomorrow the lot are attending the sunday mass and humbly following the easter procession...holier-than-thou .
avatar
@ RJ : Thanks for posting your comments. You seem to be the only one of the lot below who has got brains and especially a heart. @ Louise Vella: ...étoile noire ? ...or some other mistress of Norman the Great ?
avatar
I am waiting for the Jesuits to say something about the vatican. I fully understand the vatican they do not want these kind of people, but at least they should have the decency and not interfere in our internal matters. This goes to the Jesuits as well. Let us see if the Jesuits will report the Vatican to the EU and human rights organizations.
avatar
Anthony Galea
They should try and go live in a church or one of the mostly empty monasteries or retreat houses and see how the Christian Curia will react. Some displaced Roma people occupied a church in the Vatican. But they will be kicked out. So don't bring in Christianity if the Vatican itself does not want this sort of people on its territory. "........non sarà possibile per loro trascorrere un'altra notte in territorio vaticano." http://www.rainews24.it/it/news.php?newsid=152149
avatar
i love this. Complain complain complain. As some readers said here, when the floor gets dirty, we clean it. Where do these people think they are living in a hotel or something. They need to help themselves. I only blame the NGOs for creating this environment. Also, Malta cannot on keepingn and feeding and taking care of these people ANd Europe does not want them. Maybe they should try China or even go back home and try to build a life there by working not on handoffs. I am sick and tired of feeding and contributing to have others live better than I do.
avatar
The immigrants needs to understand that the promised land is not promising at all. Europe is in the middle of a recession and countries which are richer and bigger then us (ex Greece and Italy) are finding it pretty hard to give a decent shelter to immigrants. What I do find outrageous is the government's insistence in respecting the Dublin 2 treaty. Lets face it guys, this is a big problem which we can't solve alone so I really can't understand why we are still honoring a treaty which actually force immigrants to stay here even against their will. If France can suspend the Schengen treaty why cant we do the same with the Dublin 2 treaty?
avatar
@Wenzu. as you said - you "worked" there. You did not "live" there. You didnt sleep there, you didnt raise a family there. It is a workplace not a place for children. What I do question is the lack of preparation of the Maltese government. first it left women and children in detention for a month to release them in a hangar, which was closed due to fire some years ago. Management by crisis at its best.
avatar
@ Mr know it all RJ. Do I know what a hangar is? No not really. I've only worked in 'em for about 14 years, OK? On top of that, they are among the cleanest workplaces you can find. I reiterate, people create their OWN squalid environment. It's not there beforehand.
avatar
these people could help them selfs 1st by washing the floor if it's dirty . the kitchen was in use so if you come to my kitchen when i'm cooking would be like that if I don't clean it.The first thing my parents thought me was to help myself so that god could help me but still the floor could have been painted and there should be some one taking care of the place from the people who are lving there.
avatar
@wenzu: Do you even know what a hangar is? It is not a name of a summer resort that is for sure. @Louise: you continue to contradict yourself. first you refer to them as "fleeing from war" then as "illegal immigrant". if you flee from war then you are not an illegal immigrant. Can you at least not contradict yourself?
avatar
1. To how many people fleeing from war is Malta obliged to give protection? 1000? 10 000? 100 000? One million? Numbers count because numbers cost. 2. Is Dr Gonzi's 'Christian values' government ready to hold a referendum to see if the Maltese agree with its supine policy on illegal immigrants? Is it ready to give a voice to the Maltese people to see how many illegal immigrants they would like to keep in Malta?
avatar
People make their own squalid conditions. The hangar was not "squalid" BEFORE it's guests moved in.
avatar
@just ray. it seems that you are a typical far-right person- a bigot and a racist. This is also my country and also my home as it is yours. You do not have to be a bigot to be a maltese. i do pay taxes and expect my government to abide by its legal obligations. one of which is to provide protection to people fleeing from war. Malta is a signatory to the Geneva Convention. If a person is fleeing from war (there is a war in Libya unless your narrow mind tells you otherwise) you provide shelter. You do not have to be Christian to do that - you only need to be human. Said this, it is high time for the government to put forward a comprehensive integration programme so people who cannot return to their country of origin can learn a language, find job and pay taxes so they can contribute back too. I also expect a country which gets millions of EU funds to treat people with a sense of dignity and not throw children in tents.
avatar
I can't understand, they complain of a dirty floor, dirty kitchen and dirty showers. My floor, kitchen and shower also get dirty, but we clean them up. Why can't they do the same?
avatar
@ Godfrey Camilleri, RJ Could you please tell us which bedroom and kitchen and bathroom of yours have you given to these poor people? You seem to have a big mouth and nothing more. We gave them shelter, food and drink and now it's their turn to turn up their sleeves and do something about the rest. Criticising only does not make you Christian, but a big parrot!
avatar
At least they have shelter over their heads and are not in war zone. A system should be set up wehre everyone is assigned duties/chores to do. I hope that this is done to keep these people busy from boredom. Also, set up a section just for women and children if there is fear of criminals attacking them. It's very simple. Create a separate section via a wall. These people cannot be roaming our streets not knowing anything about them. I find some people really naive in here, and I am talking about the NGOs who have no idea what they are talking about.
avatar
To add something to what I have just said, one must also see whether these people are being given the means to keep their place tidy. They have a lot of time on their hands so, if given the means, they should keep their place spic and span. The authorities should see to proper infrastructure and means to keep a place tidy but it will then be up to the inmates to keep their floors and toilets clean.
avatar
People like Louise Vella and J. Borg say they are Christians! Well I wonder. We are treating these people much worse than we treat our animals. We should be ashamed of ourselves. It is true what someone commented that we are making a lot of fanfare about rescuing these people but then are not treating them as human beings with the conditions we are offering for them to live in. Or is this being made on purpose to put pressure on Europe to help? Well we should be specific and ask Europe what we want and tell them that we cannot afford to provide decent living conditions to these immigrants.
avatar
louise, the only person who constantly complain is really you. @jborg - they were fleeing from war. You might not be following much news lately, but there is a war in Libya.
avatar
We save people from drowning and this is what we get. A long list of complaints and demands. These people speak like choosers. They can choose to go to Ethiopia or Eritrea or Libya. They can even ask to go to Sweden or Germany or France. What is certain is that nobody invited them to come to Malta and nobody is keeping them in Malta against their will.
avatar
If the conditions are as described - and I have my reservations about that (Photos have been known to be edited or taken at particular periods to reflect what the photographer wants to emphasize) - why didn't the immigrants remain in their countries? Maybe they would have enjoyed better conditions rather than coming over here and expect to be treated differently than they would treat themselves in their own country.
avatar
L-aqwa li Gonzipn jaghmila tal-hero u ta' xi qaddis u wara jitratthom aghar mill-animali. U dan lanqas lilna il-maltin ma jistma, ghax hlief jitmejjel bin-nies ma jafx . Ahseb u ara dawn il-povra nies. Ghal voti Gonzipn lest li jaghmel minn kollox.