[WATCH] Abela insists police raid in Marsa was no act of racial profiling

Home Affairs Minister argues that police spot checks should be conducted on ‘regular basis’

Marsa raid was 'no act of racial profiling' - Abela
Marsa raid was 'no act of racial profiling' - Abela
Home Affairs Minister Carmelo Abela
Home Affairs Minister Carmelo Abela

A raid that led to the checking of 84 persons by immigration police in Marsa for documents was not an act of racial profiling, according to Home Affairs Minister Carmelo Abela.

On Wednesday the police conducted checks “to verify documents of migrants” on the main Marsa thoroughfare, and to verify that they were in Malta legally. All persons checked were found to be carrying the correct documents and were released.

Asked what prompted the raid, publicised by the police but without confirming whether any irregularity had been found, Abela told MaltaToday that at no point were the individuals detained. They were taken to the police’s headquarters “because that’s where the verification can take place”, he said.

He rejected suggestions that the move was sparked by comments made by PN deputy leader Beppe Fenech Adami, who last week told parliament that Marsa residents were “living in fear” of mainly African migrants living in the nearby open centre and cheap housing in the area.

“Absolutely not,” Abela said. “I do welcome that Fenech Adami appears to agree with this action and therefore agreeing with actions that were never undertaken by his government.”

“These are the actions that the police should continue doing on a regular basis. I have always talked of a police force that needs to be proactive.”

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.

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.

Yesterday morning’s raid sparked concern among human rights NGOs, including Aditus, which described the measure as one that promoted “a racialised approach further fuelling exclusion, marginalisation and division”.

Aditus, an NGO that guarantees legal rights for asylum seekers and refugees, said that the state had every right to ensure respect of its immigration rule, “but the climate intentionally created over the past months is one of intimidation, fear and insecurity”.

Marsa raid was 'no act of racial profiling' - Abela
Marsa raid was 'no act of racial profiling' - Abela

Comparing Wednesday’s action to road checks, Abela denied that the migrants had been treated like criminals. “They were never arrested and they were released as soon as their documents were verified – something which in itself is regularly done by the police."

“No one accuses the police of treating motorists like criminals when road checks are carried out. The police should be congratulated for its actions.”

Abela said that document checks would not be restricted to migrants originating from African countries.

“I have met people in detention centres who were waiting to be sent back home in Europe. It’s not a question of race but that the rules and laws are adhered to.”

According to recent data tabled in parliament by Employment Minister Evarist Bartolo, 9,042 third country nationals were working in Malta and Gozo as at end of September 2016: 5,597 were male and 3,445 were female.  The highest number, 1,625, originated from the Philippines, followed by Serbia (1,380).

EU nationals working in Malta amounted to 25,115.

Asked whether the police would be carrying out similar raids for immigrants originating from other countries, Abela said that JobsPlus already carries out such checks.