Malta’s ID card system for refugees proves integration is only given lip service

“The system is designed to give you a hard time and make you feel like you don’t have a future in Malta”: a young political refugee lost his ID card valid for three years but was only given a replacement valid for three months

Saleh Ahmed fled political prosecution in Ethiopia and has lived in Malta for 11 years
Saleh Ahmed fled political prosecution in Ethiopia and has lived in Malta for 11 years

Fleeing political persecution in his homeland, Ethiopia, Saleh Ahmed reached Malta 11 years ago. 

Today, the 32-year-old says he feels at home here, pointing out that he’ll be marrying his Maltese girlfriend later this year and insisting he has no intention of moving to greener pastures. 

But despite his post-graduate degree in international relations from the University of Malta, and his unyielding resolve to lead a normal life, he’s still struggling to find a job which falls within his field of expertise.

Ahmed works with Agenzija Sapport and loves taking care of young persons with disability. However, he still dreams of putting his hard-earned Masters degree in international relations to good use. 

He is excluded from being employed by the government because he is not a Maltese citizen and his chances of being employed in the private sector are marginal. 

Yet, Ahmed’s primary concern is the institutionalised discrimination he faces on a regular basis. After having had his ID card – valid for three years – and humanitarian protection document stolen at the end of last year, Ahmed has endured a torrid time trying to have his documents reissued. 

“The system is designed to give you a hard time and make you feel like you don’t have a future in Malta.”

After having his wallet stolen, Ahmed filed a police report and made his way to Valletta to have his documents reissued. However, he was first asked to obtain a copy of his humanitarian protection document from the Refugee Commission and then re-apply for an ID card in Hal Far. 

After being denied access to the offices manned by the police at Hal Far, he finally managed to get a new ID card following an eight-week wait and four trips to Hal Far. 

However, much to his surprise, the ID card he was given was valid for only three months. After enquiring why his ID card was not valid for three years like his previous one, Ahmed was told that it was a mistake and was informed that a new one would be issued for three years. 

Weeks later, he was informed that he could pick up the new card, but once again this was valid for only three months. However, this time he was told that the ID card issued in 2015 was wrong. 

While he’s also waiting for the travel document he applied for last year, Ahmed was told that he’d be given a new ID card valid for a year. 

This has left him in limbo, with Ahmed not having a valid ID card for months. Moreover, the authorities’ sluggishness has denied Ahmed a number of opportunities, including a work/study opportunity offered by the University of Malta in France. 

“The system is designed by people who publicly promote integration but in reality execute policies of disintegration,” Ahmed said, adding that the problem lies in the upper echelons of power.  

In comments to MaltaToday, the home affairs ministry confirmed that International Protection, given to refugees and people granted subsidiary protection, is valid for three years while Temporary Humanitarian Protection is valid for one year. 

Ahmed said that for some reason the authorities had a change of heart after granting him a three year permit and he is still in the dark over why he was not given a three-year ID card like he was last year. 

 A spokesperson for home affairs minister Carmelo Abela said that “in the case of renewals, the policy is that of asking the beneficiary of protection to present himself at the Office of the Refugee Commissioner. This has to be done two weeks before the expiry date of the certificate, so that a new photo is taken, new information regarding address etc. is noted, due diligence exercise is done, and then if everything is found to be regular, on the same day of the expiry date, the new certificate will be given to the beneficiary of protection in exchange of the old protection certificate.”

Ahmed said “I and others in my position, can be an asset to Malta but we are reduced to be a burden. We are simply not given a chance to integrate and lead a normal life.”

He added that his skin is thick enough for the daily abuse and racism he faces but warns that the institutional hurdles have a psychological impact on refugee asylum seekers and this also affects their families and friends, who in many cases are Maltese. 

“I aspire to develop, as a human and academically, but we are expected to take up jobs and do things which nobody else wants to do.

“I’m not only a survivor, I’m more than a survivor. I’m never asked to contribute academically. I’m mostly asked about my perilous voyage to get here and it feels like that’s the only thing people are interested in. It almost feels like I’m still trapped in that boat.”

The refugee community sees him as a role model and he has one piece of advice. “You can still achieve many things as a refugee. I’m not naïve, but I always encourage people to study, to better themselves.”

He added that when he meets children and young refugees, he does not tell them the truth about the difficulties they’ll have to face when they’re older; the racism, the discrimination and the psychological stress. 

“Refugees should be encouraged to integrate but I keep asking why are we demonised. We can be an asset, however politicians either do not understand us, or they don’t care about us or else they hold some kind of rancour or anger against us.”

However, Ahmed is not one to give up easily and he is currently considering whether to accept the invitation to sit on the forum on integration affairs set up by the ministry for social dialogue and civil liberties.