Police inspector: ‘Nobody knows how many people are in the Marsa Open Centre’

The social and family affairs parliamentary committees continued to discuss the ‘ghettoization of migrants in Malta’

The opening of the Marsa Open Centre was repeatedly said to have been one of the main reasons for the deterioration of Marsa
The opening of the Marsa Open Centre was repeatedly said to have been one of the main reasons for the deterioration of Marsa

Despite the fact that official figures put the number of residents at the Marsa Open Centre at 116, in reality “nobody knows how many people are in there”, according to police inspector Robert Vella.

Vella was speaking during a session of the parliamentary committee discussing the issue of the ghettoization of migrants in Malta, where he explained that in many cases the police had made arrests at the open centre and found people who would sleep in different locations depending on the night.

He stressed that successive government’s had failed to address issues, which developed as a consequence of the opening of open centre.  

“It is not a place for people to live. You can’t put 116 people in that place with nobody taking an interest in what is going on,” he said. “One needs to think of a way of helping these people integrate themselves, find work, receive an education and understand how to live within the community.”

Vella added that it was obvious to him that people who did not have anything to do or anywhere to go would end up drinking away the little money they had.

Asked about reported cases of mistreatment of sub-Saharan African migrants by police, Vella said it was understandable for the police to use to force, if they were attacked by whomever they were trying to arrest.

“But I don’t believe there are any bad feelings towards these people on the part of the police,” he continued.

Turning to reports of the Marsa police station being often closed, Vella said that the Police Commissioner had ordered for two Rapid Intervention Unit patrol cars to be permanently stationed in Marsa, but acknowledged that the police station was closed on some occasions.

“About 15 days ago we had a meeting with the local council in the presence of the commissioner, were we were told that Marsa would get more attention and that the station would be beefed up,” said Vella.

Asked about criminality in Marsa, Vella noted that over 70% of crimes in the locality were committed by Maltese people, and not migrants. He said that while, often cited reports of children being abducted were not correct, the situation had deteriorated recently, especially in certain areas that were known to be crime hotspots.

Alex Borg, from the Marsa football nursery said the situation had deteriorated over the last five years, with the number of children attending the nursery having plummeted over a short period of time.

He said that many migrants hung around the nursery’s grounds, which in turn meant that both parents and the nursery were concerned about the children’s wellbeing.

“Out of the 120 boys we had, today we have 40 in the whole nursery,” he said, adding that he could not blame parents who had chosen to send their children to other nurseries.

“On Saturday morning we pick up a garbage bag-full of beer cans, and in summer the occasional sleeping person.”

He said that in addition to the problem with migrants, there was also a problem with syringes left running around.

Asked what he believed to be the solution, Borg reiterated that Marsa had no youth centre, and suggested opening a youth centre that was “indoors”.

Resident Julie Ellul, who organised a walk of solidarity with the residents of Marsa a few months ago, stressed that the situation had become unbearable.

“Everyone I speak to is afraid, I don’t even trust my children going to the shop,” she said.
Ellul explained that she was also concerned when her children walked from their school to church during school hours, since drunk people could be found in the streets at all times.

Asked to elaborate on whether there were ever any cases involving children, Ellul recounted how she had, in the past, noticed a man following her around.

She said that after initially dismissing her fear as paranoia, she had opened up to other parents, who said they had also experienced the same thing.

Ellul said she had filed a police report but never went back to the police when the man then chased her down the street.

Finally councillors Josef Azzoarpdi and Domnic Spencer lamented the fact that Marsa was no longer recognisable to its people.

“The fact that people of Marsa leave the house and can’t recognise any of the people around them is not nice,” said Azzopardi, who insisted that people were right to feel uncomfortable given that they “did not know who their neighbours were”.

Both councillors flagged issues with shops that turned into bars in the evenings, and stressed that stories of people relieving themselves on residents’ doorsteps were all true, and unacceptable.  

Azzopardi said that while it was true that this was official statistic did not show a high degree of crimes of crimes being committed by migrants, there were many cases of harassment that went unreported.

“These stories are not reported but they exist,” he stressed. “Would you go all the way to police station to file a report if someone urinated against your door, or if someone said something to you in the street.”

Azzopardi also insisted that the creation of a job centre for migrants was not a solution, since the majority of those looking for work did not have a work permit, and could therefore not go through officials channels to secure work.

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