‘We are not bad’ - African migrants feel misunderstood

By Bertrand Borg - Six African migrants who settled in Malta have spoken of the obstacles they face in trying to carve a life for themselves here.
Article Keydmedia Online
‘We are not bad’ - African migrants feel misunderstood

Throughout a 90-minute roundtable discussion held at the University of Malta’s Aula Magna in Valletta last Friday, the migrants described the hurt they felt at being misrepresented and misunderstood.

“We are not bad people. We are not here to take away people’s jobs. We’re just here to save our lives,” said Ali Konate, from Mali. “Who would ever leave their family, knowing they had no possibility of seeing them, unless they had no choice?”

Abishi Abdala, from Somalia, agreed and spoke of how he missed his family, who had fled violence as he did and now lived in Uganda. “I send whatever money I can afford to them every month,” he said.

“In Somalia, women are now considered less than a person,” said Naima Abdi, who works as an interpreter. “What rights can a child have when they are born into civil war?”

Ms Abdi was well aware that she was often unwanted but refused to let it eat away at her self-worth. “Only 20 or 30 per cent of people are happy to see us. Maybe we are nothing for many, but something for one.”

Goitom Yoisef, an immigrant working with the Jesuit Refugee Service, began his brief presentation by emolishing a myth.

“Not every migrant wants to leave Malta.”

Some, he explained, will remain in Malta despite the challenges, with many making an effort to learn Maltese and English while holding down a job.

Mr Yoisef railed against the injustices inherent in the local welfare system, which disqualifies most migrants from receiving unemployment benefits even if they are gainfully employed and paying tax. “We fill gaps in the labour market that would not be filled otherwise. But even though we pay tax and national insurance, if we lose our jobs we must rely on our savings or on support from the community.”

It was something that upset Mr Konate too: “Some of us have been here for 10 years. We work, pay taxes and our bills, but at the end of the day we have absolutely nothing.”

Romance was difficult, too. “No matter who she is, there will be family or friends trying to discourage her from having a relationship with you,” he sighed.

Ousamane Dicko, an Ivorian who has been in Malta since 2005, said the media had to shoulder the responsibility for some of the misconceptions.

“Many Maltese don’t know we pay taxes like everyone else and contribute to society. They just think we are here to take money, but we’re not looking for government charity.”

The language used also wounded them, from talk of “klandestini” to “an African tsunami” or discussions on “burden sharing” of asylum seekers.

“Politicians speak of burden sharing,” Mr Yosief said, “but I’m not a burden. I have a job, I pay my taxes. I contribute to society. Maybe I was a burden on the state when I was in detention, but not anymore.”

Excessive bureaucracy sapped at their spirits. “I spend 14 of my 24 days of annual leave queuing in government offices,” said Mr Abdala, and there were also issues of racism, especially in Paceville.

“You try and go out but bouncers don’t let you into bars. So you stay home and party but the police come and tell you to go to Paceville. You cannot win!” Mr Konate said to nervous laughter.

But perhaps the panellists’ most heartfelt grievance concerned their inability to be reunited with their respective families.

The Times

Article 21 May 2021 10:14

I read your article on Foreign Policy with keen eyes and interest. While whining from public officials does not deserve response from any sensible citizen of the Republic of Somalia, I felt compelled to counter false narrative with more objective analysis.