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Cultures: Integration starts locally

Posted Date: 11/08/2011

The Malta Independent - 11 August 2011

As with most things that really make the difference to our quality of life on the most basic of levels, change for the better, real change, starts at the local level.

And that is precisely why it was a sad state of affairs yesterday when not a single of the country’s 68 local councils managed to send a representative to yesterday’s seminar on migrant integration held by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Malta Office and SOS Malta.

Nor did a single local councillor – out of a total 444 elected local councillors - turn up, despite all the country’s local councils having been extended an invitation.

There are approximately 3,500 irregular migrants residing in Malta these days – 1,000 of which live as our neighbours in Malta and Gozo’s towns and villages.

But despite this, and despite the fact that six whole years have passed since the beginning of the irregular migration phenomenon in 2005, Maltese and migrants are clearly not integrating, according to the results of two separate surveys carried out by the UNHCR and SOS Malta on the integration of beneficiaries of protection in Malta.

Both surveys which confirmed a dearth of integration as well as a still omnipresent feeling of discrimination among the country’s irregular migrants – both inside and outside the workplace. In fact, migrants surveyed said they had no or very little contact with Maltese people on any level whatsoever.

The surveys found that the vast majority of those living in Malta under international protection have never visited a local council or have even heard of the Housing Authority. Very few migrants or Maltese surveyed have ever been involved in any form of intercultural or interfaith activity.

And the same old issues of discrimination still appear to be very much alive and kicking. Migrants are, by and large, still not paid equally and work illegally in many cases, neighbourhoods are still seen to react negatively when migrants move in, and there are still, sadly, frequent instances of people refusing to sit next to migrants on buses.

The question here is whether we are willing to have a completely ghettoised section of society. It has not happened just yet but all the ingredients are there. The answer, beyond any doubt, is a clear-cut ‘No’.

Migrants surveyed said they wanted access to education, particularly to learn English and Maltese. This shows a will to integrate, and that will is there in other areas as well.

But this is a two-way street and we all have to do our part. Why not try a simple ‘Good Morning’ once in a while? It is, after all, the small things that make all the difference.

The Prime Minister is moving legal amendments so that one of these discriminated and ostracised irregular migrants can be awarded a national medal for outstanding bravery after he died saving the life of another. And still some of us cannot bring ourselves to speak to or sit on a bus next to one of his compatriots.

The UNHCR’s Do 1 Thing Campaign is a worthy initiative that encourages individuals, businesses and social groups to do just one thing to raise personal awareness or awareness amongst others to the situation of refugees in Malta - from the small gestures to organising sporting events to fundraising events to UNHCR staff talks for companies.

The possibilities are endless, let us all do our part in any way that we can to help create the kind of inclusive country fit to raise our future generations in.



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