[WATCH] Is there no solution for down-and-out migrants in Marsa?

As the immigration debate continues to escalate, KARL AZZOPARDI took to the streets to experience first-hand the realities the Marsa community experiences on a daily basis

“In order for the community to solve the problem, it is vital to have everyone reaching out to each other”. Photo by James Bianchi
“In order for the community to solve the problem, it is vital to have everyone reaching out to each other”. Photo by James Bianchi
Migrants in Marsa: Frans Debono and Ahmed Bugre

Nationalist Party (PN) leader Adrian Delia, during a Sunday speech claimed that the influx of foreigners is robbing Maltese nationals of their liberty, while also making older people feel scared in their own homes.

Delia insisted that the lack of a proper migration policy is eroding our values, while causing havoc with the Maltese identity.

In an interview with MaltaToday, Marsa mayor Francis Debono said that the migration issue should be tackled on a national scale.

“Immigration is Marsa’s biggest problem, but I also believe that it’s more of a national issue,” Marsa mayor Francis Debono said.

“The problem we have in my opinion is that we are blaming the lack of action done by the national authorities on the local council. There’s only so much we can do,” Debono said.

Foundation for Shelter and Support to Migrants director, Ahmed Bugre, somewhat disagreed with this statement. “In order for the community to solve the problem, it is vital to have everyone reaching out to each other,” Bugre said.

“The migrant community in Marsa is part of the Marsa community, therefore the council must look to find solutions. I do agree that it is a national problem, but the council can’t brush one’s shoulders to the situation,” Ahmed Bugre insisted.

[WATCH] Marsa band club refuses entry to black people

Ahmed Bugre: denied entry to Marsa band club


Debono also said that the problems instigated by the minority are blamed on the majority, with those individuals who are causing all the trouble putting a bad label on those that don’t.

Asked if the Marsa stigma is merited, Debono claimed that one has to analyse where and from whom the stigma is coming.

“Who is creating the stigma? Do they have any political gain from the stigma created? I think one should see those factors first before asking if the stigma is merited or not,” he said.

Debono insisted that Marsa is part of a whole country, and therefore what is happening in Marsa can be seen all over Malta.

Marsa mayor Frans Debono
Marsa mayor Frans Debono
No, we don’t have a housing crisis. It is the responsibility of those sleeping in gardens and public spaces to stop doing so Francis Debono, Marsa mayor

“We need to stop giving localities a bad name, it’s happened in the past with the Cottonera region and is happening today with Marsa and Hamrun,” the mayor claimed.

On policing, Debono said that the increase of police personnel has helped to control illicit and irregular activities.

This contradicts a claim made by one of the locals interviewed by the newspaper, who said that police presence is only felt when a fight or some irregular activity hits the headlines, with the illegalities resuming when the issue dies down.

“After a week or two the number of police we see frequenting the area diminishes, and that’s when the illegalities return to their normal ways,” a woman frequenting the Marsa Band Club told the newspaper.

Debono said that regular policing also keeps the locals at ease, as according to him migrants don’t want to face law enforcement.

Bugre agreed that proper law-enforcement is essential, but claimed that it does not solve the problem.

“When we increase policing we only suppress the problem. What happens when you tell someone sleeping on the street to go away? He finds somewhere else like a public garden or another neighbouring area,”

Policing was evident when MaltaToday went to Marsa, with regular Rapid Intervention Unit patrol cars seen scouring the streets.

The only lack of police presence was seen inside the police station, with only one individual taking care of the night shift.

Asked whether this was the norm, the officer replied by saying that he was to be accompanied by another police officer who had called in sick but was not replaced.

When faced with the question of whether the police enforce loitering laws in Marsa, the police officer stationed for the night shift at the Marsa police station said no, despite the mayor’s claims of doing so.

“We only enforce drinking by-laws, no loitering laws are enforced by us,” the police officer said.

Faced with the police officer’s response, Debono said that it was irresponsible of him to state such things.

Debono said that the anti-loitering law was proposed by himself, in an effort to curb illegalities like prostitution and drugs.

The anti-loitering law was also pushed forward to prevent the illegal recruitment of migrant workers from the well-known Marsa roundabout according to the mayor.

Earlier this month, PN MEP candidate Dione Borg, published an online video blog talking about the migrant situation in Marsa, highlighting the fact that establishments that were run by Maltese nationals are now being run by migrants.

Asked to comment, Bugre said that the comment was deplorable.

“All I have to say is that it was a cheap way at trying to attract voters back. It wasn’t even a populist move and I won’t give that statement the dignity of answering it,” Bugre said.

In order for the community to solve the problem, it is vital to have everyone reaching out to each other Ahmed Bugre, Foundation for Shelter and Support for Migrants

“When migrants are not working they complain. When migrants are working they complain. What do the Maltese want? Do they want migrants to clean the streets only, or to work behind garbage trucks? It was just dirt.”

MaltaToday interviewed a migrant business owner, Pollo Lucky.

Lucky has been a business owner for the last five years, running a grocery shop and a bar in Marsa.

Queried about the situation in Marsa, Lucky said that he has always experienced a welcoming atmosphere from Marsa residents, expressing his disgust at other migrants for their lack of respect towards the community and the country.

“If you live in a country you must respect the law and lifestyle in it. I don’t like the way some of the others act, it gives me and migrants with good intentions a bad name that we don’t deserve,” he said.

Over the past few weeks, PN leader Adrian Delia took centre stage when he said that despite the government insisting that we are living in the best of times (l-aqwa zmien), we have migrants sleeping in cowsheds and in gardens.

Despite the countless accounts and photos of migrants sleeping in public places around Marsa, the mayor insisted that the locality doesn’t have a housing crisis.

“No, we don’t have a housing crisis. It is the responsibility of those sleeping in gardens and public spaces to stop doing so,” Francis Debono said.

Bugre laughed off this statement.

“Prices are hiking, wages are very low and people are forced to live in crowded conditions due to not being able to afford rent. It is one of the biggest problems that the migrant community is facing,” he said.

Bugre also claimed that a sizeable portion of migrants are opting for a life in prison, with individuals opting for imprisonment rather than sleeping outside.

“Breakfast, lunch, dinner and a bed are provided in prison. Some migrants are committing petty thefts just to get off the streets,” he said.

Debono said that migrants who sleep outside are undeterred when they are told to move by police officials, as they tend to go around from one locality to another until they find a spot where they aren’t bothered by anyone.

The solution to the Marsa problem according to Debono has to begin with the clamping down on over-crowding in privately owned apartments. The high density and lack of legal standards is an ever-growing problem in Marsa.

Debono also said that change is not easily accepted, and added that in a transitional period such as this, radical change is not easy to adapt to.

“In a locality which has an elderly population, different lifestyles and cultures are not easily accepted, but I believe that in due time with proper policies and appropriate regulation the problem will get solved,”

Ahmed Bugre’s solution lies in communities branching out to each other.

“We need to have stakeholders reaching out to each other. The solution lies in proper planning,” Bugre said.

He insisted that a proper dialogue must be ignited.

“The local council together with community workers, the Maltese community and the migrant community, must come together for a holistic and long-term plan.”

Bugre insists that if both the migrant community and the local Marsa residents do not feel threatened by each other, this would result in more integration.

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