[WATCH] Malta has refused to plan ahead on migration, foundation head says

Ahmed Bugre points out the inconsistency of those who claim that Malta is full and cannot take in more asylum seekers while advertising the need for foreign labour

Five cars belonging to AWAS employees were burnt during the violent riot at the Hal Far open centre this month
Five cars belonging to AWAS employees were burnt during the violent riot at the Hal Far open centre this month

Malta has refused to plan ahead to better manage migrant arrivals despite repeated warnings that the phenomenon will persist, the head of a migrant solidarity foundation said.

Ahmed Bugre believes the only crisis going on in Europe is one of management, not of numbers.

The number of refugees coming to Europe pales in comparison to those that go to other African countries, the director of the Foundation for Shelter and Support to Migrants argued, as he called for more planning and preparation.

“What we [Malta] have refused to look at is planning ahead,” Bugre insisted, despite the fact that his foundation had warned the government that the forced displacement of people has no end in sight.

Ahmed Bugre
Ahmed Bugre

Speaking on TVM’s Xtra on Thursday, Bugre also criticised Malta’s migrant detention policy, noting that under both Maltese and European law, it is illegal to detain people who are seeking asylum. The focus should be geared more towards integration and relocation as opposed to detention.

“Why should we have detention policy in Malta when by law, detention of migrants is against the law,” Bugre queried.

Bugre also turned his sights on those who argue that Malta is full, and that the country cannot take in any more migrants. “With the same breath, we are advertising to import over 50,000 migrant workers, and stating that Malta cannot pick and choose,” he noted.

On the recent Hal Far open centre riot and protests at the Safi detention centre, the FSM director said that this too can, in part, be traced back to Malta’s refusal to tackle the challenge of rehabilitating and integrating asylum seekers head-on.

This has led to a situation where many refugees are left in the dark with regard to what their future prospects may hold, which in turn fosters anger and frustration. 

“In Malta, unfortunately, we have chosen to close our eyes to inclusion and integration,” Bugre said.

The only positive way forward lies in giving migrants and refugees the right to vote, as this will empower them on a civic level and aid their integration into Maltese society, he added.

“Probably there is no political will to change things at the moment as politician know that no matter what the migrant says or does… they cannot affect you in the ballot box,” he said. 

Mayors want more integration and communication

Mayors of two localities with direct experience of migrant communities agreed that more effort to integrate migrants is necessary.

Birżebbuġa mayor Joseph Farrugia and his Safi counterpart, Johan Mula, said integration would benefit migrants and the communities they live in.

Joseph Farrugia
Joseph Farrugia

“We need more communication between us and them. We can’t just cast them aside, because sometimes I believe that this is what’s happening,” Farrugia said. 

The Birżebbuġa mayor noted that it is the individual’s duty and responsibility to respect others, irrespective of race, adding also that in more than 21 years of experience as a mayor, he has never received any reports of migrants beating up or causing harm to Birżebbuġa residents.

Mula, on the other hand, acknowledged that some members of his locality have expressed some concerns, especially in light of recent events, but also empathised with the residents of the detention centre. 

“One must understand that if these people are going to be locked up – this is like a prison here – then there’s going to be some unhappiness,” Mula said. 

Johan Mula
Johan Mula

The Safi mayor also questioned the wisdom of isolating migrants, asking “how helpful is it, with respect to integration, that these people are cut off on their own in a separate location?”

However, Mula did not fail to draw attention to Malta’s limitations, noting that “Malta is a village in the country of Europe”, and that there is a limit to how many refugees the country can support. 

“We need to be firm and make our case with the institutions and countries of Europe,” Mula said, calling for burden sharing to become obligatory.