‘All those migrants in their midst’... Fenech Adami speaks of fear of Marsa residents

Nationalist MP Beppe Fenech Adami says Marsa residents live in fear of migrants and complain of lawlessness, but town is still on the low end of criminality levels according to latest data

Nationalist MP Beppe Fenech Adami
Nationalist MP Beppe Fenech Adami

Nationalist Party deputy leader Beppe Fenech Adami has claimed that residents of the Marsa open centre, and foreigners living in Marsa, were causing Maltese residents to be scared.

He was speaking on a Bill to amend the Refugee Act, when Fenech Adami said that politicians should “assume some blame for causing many Marsa residents to live in fear” and for what he called the level of lawlessness from a sudden influx “of hundreds, if not thousands, of migrants in their mix, without both sides having been prepared for such a forced integration.”

Fenech Adami, shadow home affairs minister, claimed that Marsa was the locality worst affected by the influx of migrants.

Marsa hosts an open centre where migrants released from detention can stay in for a limited period of time, but they usually take up residence in nearby houses, given the convenience of the town's proximity to Valletta, where they register for work documents, and the cheap rents. Similar towns with cheap housing are usually the first port of all for low-skilled foreign nationals.

“We must admit that we did something wrong because one Marsa resident after another is quick to tell you that they are worried and scared, having all those migrants in their midst,” he said.

2016 saw Malta receive just 25 asylum seekers by boat, usually an illegal entry, while a total of 1,763 asylum claims, of which over 650 were Libyans travelling legally, and over 280 from Syrians. Marsa open centre tends to host asylum seekers and beneficiaries of protection from mainly African countries.

And while Fenech Adami focused on crime, it is the affluent St Julian's that has the highest level of crime in Malta, five times the national average. The highest number of reported crimes was in St Julian’s with 2,369 crimes being reported in the area back in 2016, much higher than any other locality. St Paul’s Bay had the second highest rate of reported crimes (1,498), followed by Sliema (1,440). Msida saw 553 crimes reported, Birkirkara saw 492 crimes reported, Qormi (490), Mosta (450), Paola (438), Marsa (424) and Gzira (421).

Fenech Adami now said that the Marsa residents and migrants there had not been adequately prepared in advance for the change that came over the locality, mainly because of the migrant open centre. “In hindisght, we must realise that there are other localities where the level of acceptation for integration among locals and migrants was much higher, as has been the case in Balzan,” he said, of the smaller centre hosted by a convent.

Fenech Adami also said that “many people” were also complaining about a level of lawlessness, not only in Marsa, but across the country, caused by non-EU nationals living in Malta illegally. “This level of lawlessness is also evident in the workforce, with many such people taking work away from hard-working, tax-paying Maltese,” he said.

In 2013, Fenech Adami had signed a judicial protest to prevent an attempted pushback of migrants, in what became a showdown with the newly-elected Labour government.

He welcomed efforts from the European Union to recognise the problems posed by illegal immigration should not be faced by the country where the immigrants land alone. “The concept of voluntary and obligatory burden sharing within the EU needs to be backed with action by those countries that commit themselves to accepting a number of migrants,” he said.

PN MP Censu Galea said that with the atrocities being carried out in war-torn Syria, it was imperative that countries start examining and identifying the root problems causing the massive migratory patterns seen today.

“We must tackle this problem at its roots, besides trying to integrate the migrants into our communities,” he said.

“Like Marsa, Marsaxlokk and Birzebbugia residents too are frustrated with the presence of such a large number of migrants wondering around in their communities,” Galea said.

“This level of frustration leads residents to blame these migrants for every bad thing that happens in their towns, further acerbating the divide between locals and migrants.”

Minister denies Marsa migrant numbers quoted by opposition

In his winding-up, home affairs minister Carmelo Abela acknowledged that the amendments being proposed in the bill were minor, mainly establishing the Refugee Appeals Board to hear appeal cases on refugee applications.

Reacting to the opposition’s statements, Abela said that some countries in the EU were using the fear of the rise of populism as a means to circumvent their burden-sharing commitments.

He welcomed the fact that people and countries were nowadays constantly discussing the issue of migration at all levels, with countries accepting that solidarity should be practised constantly across the EU member states.

The government, he said, was committed to ensure that law and order reign supreme in Marsa, as well asin other communities hosting open centres, since the previous administrations had done nothing to assuage the fears of residents.

“I am informed that the police force are constantly maintaining a strong presence close to these open centres, especially in weekends,” Abela said.

“But I must point out that in the Marsa open centre there are currently 109 migrants, not the hundreds and thousands hinted at by Beppe Fenech Adami,” he said. “In Balzan, as mentioned by my counterpart, there are 104 migrants.”