[WATCH] Opposition to migrants stems from fear, Ahmed Bugre says

Migration and the issues surrounding it were discussed in the first half of tonight’s Xtra on TVM

Migration was the topic of discussion during the first half on this evening's Xtra on TVM
Migration was the topic of discussion during the first half on this evening's Xtra on TVM

(The second part of the video consists in an interview with Planning Authority CEO Johann Buttigieg)

Malta has unfortunately been viewing migration as a short-term problem, and has not implemented any long-term solutions for the phenomenon, Ahmed Bugre has said.

Speaking on Xtra on TVM this evening, the Foundation for Shelter and Support to Migrants director said that opposition to migrants stemmed from fear.

“When it comes to European workers - such as Swedes, Italians and Dutch persons - nobody has a problem,” he said, “The problem is with Africans, because people are scared they will bring a culture and religion change.”

“I think religion is a bigger issue in Malta than skin colour, as people are afraid Islam could take over,” he remarked.

Moviment Patrijotti Maltin leader Henry Battistino, however, argued that the source migration issues in Malta was the country’s below European average salaries, which were attracting certain types of workers.

“It is understandable that people are scared of Islam - everywhere it was introduced in Europe, big problems came to be,” he said, “I’m not bothered about colour, it’s the number of people which are coming which worries me,” he said.

Challenged by host Saviour Balzan on whether - given that Malta had no employment problems - his party’s rally call was misplaced, Battistino said that the island’s size was a factor in the problem.

“Do we want overpopulation, which is causing problems in the property market, traffic, and other problems?” he asked, “Our programme is focused on the issue of too great a population, which started reaching such levels six years ago.”

“We are basing our economy on cheap labour. Once our salaries reach the European Union average, the population problem as well as abusive work conditions will be alleviated,” he said, “We are in favour of an economy which can sustain 350,000 people.”

Balzan went on to ask Bugre what type of long-term solutions to the migration issue he was suggesting, with the pastor saying that most migrants do not ultimately stay in Malta, because of limited opportunities.

“Malta is attracting migrants right now because the economy is doing well. But the country is not a place where people want to come and stay [forever],” he said, "And African migrants do not come here to take Maltese people’s work."

The process for obtaining a work permit for third-country nationals is so complicated, that people are forced to work in the informal economy, he said, but this did not make such workers “illegal”.

As the discussion turned to housing-related issues, Marsa mayor Frans Debono said there was no easy solution to the phenomenon of property being rented out to migrants to be shared between several numbers of them in one building.

“Landlords are taking the opportunity to rent out their previously abandoned property to migrant workers in Malta,” he said, “Our economy now needs workers from different countries. We cannot go back in time and close down our market in such a way as to not accept any more workers.”

“What we need to regulate is situations where people come to the island and think they can do as they please,” he underlined, stressing that it would not be good to completely close the doors for migrants.

Democracy means “all allowed to express themselves”

Asked by Balzan on a possible way forward regarding migration-related tensions, Bugre said the problem could be overcome if a civic education effort was undertaken in the country.

“Society is very polarised in Malta. People are either blue or red, Catholic or not,” he said, asserting that his own children sometimes struggled to be accepted on the island.

This provoked Battistino to retort that Malta had given him (Bugre) “a passport and respect”, and to accuse the pastor of “always running the Maltese down.”

“The Maltese are too good,” Battistino said.

“I am very grateful to live in Malta, but I do not expect to not be allowed to speak if something is done wrongly. We live in a democracy, and this means that one is allowed to express one's feelings,” Bugre responded.