Closing down Marsa open centre: government reconsiders move to Hal Far

With residents planning an anti-immigrant protest on Sunday, the government promises to close down the Marsa open centre… but reconsiders decision to move all asylum seekers and immigrants to Hal Far

'We consider Marsa to be a meeting point, especially since in other social places we are not accepted' (File photo: Ray Attard/MediaToday)
'We consider Marsa to be a meeting point, especially since in other social places we are not accepted' (File photo: Ray Attard/MediaToday)

The government has halted the planned relocation of some 160 asylum seekers and immigrants to Hal Far, after Birzebbugia residents voiced their concerns on the “disproportionate burden” the move will have on their community.

With the Marsa residents planning an anti-immigrant protest against “the lawlessness of African immigrants”, the government reiterated its pledge to close down the Marsa open centre.

Marsa is home to a sizeable number of asylum seekers, mainly sub-Saharan nationals, who are released from detention.

The plan was to move all residents of the open centre to Hal Far – a move that has found the opposition of Birzebbugia residents who feel that they will have to bear the brunt of the government’s decision.

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat’s government has thus taken the decision to halt the process and find an alternative and equitable solution.

The decision also follows an open letter to the Prime Minister by fifth district PN MP Hermann Schiavone, who urged Muscat to reconsider his decision reminding that Birzebbugia residents have other challenges to face up to as well. 

“I don’t want to turn the matter into political football, especially since we’re talking about human beings. However, I feel that the principle of burden sharing – one which we fight for at EU level – should be applied at home too. It’s impossible that this burden has to be shouldered by the fifth district alone. Likewise, I don’t believe it should be shouldered just by the Marsa residents,” Schiavone said.

The Marsa residents, up in arms over what they describe as a disregard for the law by immigrants in their town, are holding “a solidarity walk”. They want to pressure the government to take action and “give Marsa residents their dignity back”.

The police have been increasing raids in the port city, where mainly sub-Saharan nationals are stopped and asked to present their identification papers.

A number of African migrant and refugee communities have publicly denounced persons “who get drunk and commit other violations in public places”.

“We appreciate the refuge and hospitality given to us by the government and we are aware of some problems happening in Marsa and as African refugees and migrants we do not support those who get drunk in public places or do other violations,” the groups said in a joint statement.

They stated that, the fact those who broke the law were not representative of the whole community: “We consider Marsa to be a meeting point, especially since in other social places we are not accepted. The situation in Marsa is a result of years of neglect, even before the Marsa Open Centre was set up by the authorities.”

The communities insisted that they were ready to sit down and have constructive discussions with the government and the Maltese in order “to find a solution and improve dialogue”.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said he would not allow the creation of ghettos on his watch. Whilst promising residents that a solution will be found, and action taken against whoever breaks the law, Muscat also insisted that citizens should stop hating the word “integration”.

“The more we isolate people, the easier it will be to create ghettos. 25 years down the line, I don’t want to look back thinking that we created ghettoes because we failed to face and tackle the issue.”

PN leadership candidate Chris Said took the opportunity to voice his opinion on the matter, arguing that Malta lacked long-term policies for both legal and illegal migration.

“It is a well-known fact that the country requires skilled and unskilled labour in the construction industry, as well as the tourism and catering industries amongst others. Employers state that many Maltese would rather not do certain jobs, meaning that employers have to resort to foreign workers. Maltese workers in these sectors are poorly paid, because employers are able to employ foreign workers at cheaper rates. When a Maltese worker asks for a raise, they are threatened with dismissal. This is unacceptable: the concept of ‘equal pay for equal work’ is simply empty talk for the government,” Said said in a statement.

Said argued that whilst the number of foreign workers coming to Malta for a job was “not a bad thing”, there still existed “no strategy pertaining to the number of workers needed in the various economic sectors over a period of time”.

“Everything is being done in a haphazard manner leading to precarious working conditions high accommodation rentals. This is negatively affecting young people and the elderly.”

Said warned that if Italy stop receiving irregular migrants, Malta will return to the forefront.

Reuters recently reported that an armed group was stopping migrant boats from setting off across the Mediterranean from a city west of Tripoli that has been a springboard for people smugglers, causing a sudden drop in departures over the past months.

“The integration of migrants in our society is another important issue that deserves attention. We have always been a charitable and hospitable nation, but we cannot ignore certain realities. In places like Marsa, St.Paul’s Bay, Bugibba, Birzebbugia and Gzira, integration has failed,” Said said, declaring that this led “to a rise in crime”.

He promised that, if elected leader, he will “prioritise and give major importance to these issued”.

More in National

Get access to the real stories first with the digital edition