JEF Malta: Seminar on migration

How much is your life worth?

Today was quite a special day. I mean: yes, we had a panel debate, and the extra free-time was welcoming. But, it was nothing compared to the lasting impression of our visit to the open-center for irregular migrants in Marsa. The center is a male only center and the only center that was run by a NGO, the Foundation for Shelter and support for Migrants (FSM).  We were met by the director of the center, Ahmed Bugri, who is originally from Ghana, but moved to Malta to study when Malta and Ghana both still were part of the British Commonwealth. His personality, enthusiasm and dedication to the centre was absolutely inspiring. After a small introduction we split up in groups to get a tour of the center. The group I was in, was guided by Ahmed, but I heard that the other group had an equally inspiring and mind-opening experience.

For the beginning of the tour we just stopped next to the “water” that is next to the center. That stream was basically a sewage, with a incredible smell and then we were told that “because of the rain the previous days, the smell was really weak today, so we were lucky”. Reality check number one.
Ahmed had already explained that the center only had 460-something beds, but that there were more than a thousand people staying in the center. Of course when you see the consequences, it is something quite different. In a dormitory with sixteen beds, Ahmed pointed out, there are at least 35 people sleeping there, with up to fifty people not being an exception. Yes, I had heard stories like this before from centers in Belgium which are also over-capacitated; nothing prepares you for the confrontation with the reality of what those figures mean, though… Reality check number two.
Next, Ahmed lead the way to a part of the center that was under construction. They recently had a fire in a room in that part of the center and because of the over population of the rooms the fire was impossible to stop. They were lucky that only three people got hurt (a broken leg from jumping from the third level and landing in the trees). You should know that a lot of the old rooms, are still the emergency rooms set up several years ago. There are few safety measures taken into account, which basically means that nobody should be surprised that there is a possibility of a fire breaking out at any point. Reality check number three.
After showing us the new rooms – which were a lot more clean, better organized end took into account most safety measures –  the tour ended. As a closing statement Ahmed gave us his view of his policy concerning migrants. It was clear that there’s still a lot of work to be done, but I have little doubt that the director will ever be done working with the center, even though he already brought some significant changes to the center.

I think I speak on behalf of all the participants, when I say that this visit was an eye-opener and is really going to leave an impression. Hearing the statistics and reading the stories is one thing. Actually seeing the persons who live those stories, is an entirely different thing.

Cédric Fernández