Malta's castaways-2

It's Saturday February 02, 2008, it's Registration Day again. Over a hundred people line up outside the offices of the Marsa Open Center for Refugees. Inside, a young man is crying. He attacks July, one of the employees of Suriet-Il-Bniedem, the NGO which manages the center; he is furious because he was unable to obtain the monthly allowance which he can claim because of his "humanitarian status". The tension is growing. When he finds himself facing Terry Gosden, the manager of the center, he is exhausted and threatens to file a complaint, yells that he does not know what to do, that he has no money, that it is unfair . Terry nods, encourages him to go to the police to file a complaint, tries to calm him down and ends up dismissing him. The man is still crying, July is shocked by the violence of the altercation. "What do you want me to tell him?" Explains Terry, this guy is Ivorian, he wants to file a complaint, let him do it! All I want is him to file a complaint, not just him but everyone who cannot touch their money. The guys here haven't been around for a long time, they don't know their rights. They are too afraid to go to the police, but they have to understand that it is their right, that if they are there, the police, the justice is also for them, but they are not used to it to that ... Often, it is rather to the Libyan soldiers that they are used ... The problem is that the government has tightened the screw these last months, now they have to sign three times a week to touch their money every month. Three times a week! Like that, without explanations, just to block people. He missed a signature, only one over a whole month! He could not sign, he worked ... So he is convinced that it is we who decide, that we put our pockets in our pockets keeping their money. He is right. In its place, I would surely think the same thing. Nothing pushes them to think otherwise, look at racism and corruption on this island ... The government is doing everything to make their lives difficult and we, we are forced to apply insane directives. "

Since October, things have not worked out for African migrants who arrived in Malta by mistake and stranded on the island. Tensions arose in the centers following the government’s decision to allocate monthly allowances to those who sign attendance registers three times a week. In theory, this represents only a few signatures, but in practice, this means that, three times a week, you have to choose between a possible daily underpaid work and the signature, which allows you to receive a monthly sum of less than a hundred euros…

Tensions have prompted the government to restrict accreditation to access refugee centers, presumably out of fear that the topic will be too stirred during the election period.

Terry still talks about these bars that refuse to serve blacks, these immigrant women who prostitute themselves more and more frequently; he talks about the presidential campaign, which is making the situation worse; of this new far-right candidate, who proposes to send immigrants back to the boats with which they came ... But he also talks about his friend, a Somali refugee who worked in the Marsa office and who, in the rare case, was able to leave in Ireland to return to university. He talks about the work carried out in recent months in the center of Marsa and the pouring rain that keeps falling, that should not make things better
for the people of Hal-far.

To get to Hal-Far you have to take the line 11 bus, which leaves from Valletta. Usually when it stops in front of Marsa it is almost empty. When he leaves, he is full; full of those who came to look for work in the morning, those who did not find any, those who returned from work and those who came to kill time at the center. The bus crosses part of the island to the south, passing through Birzzebuga, a dormitory town for workers in "free-port", the gigantic container port. Often the bus stops for a long time. Walls you have to change buses and wait, wait before leaving, without explanations. Yusef, from Asmara, the capital of Eritrea, says it's often like that, especially on the way home. Like a large part of the inhabitants of Hal-Far, he commutes at least twice a day, getting up every morning at four o'clock to go and wait for the vans who pick up the daily workers in front of Marsa. He is outraged that from Hal-Far, it takes more than an hour to reach Valletta, he thinks it is wanted and recalls the events of the past few months, reported in the local press; stories of racism and bus drivers who refuse to bring up blacks ...

"Hal-Far open center for Refugee" is located in a semi-industrial area, a kind of no man’s land devoid of housing not far from Birzebbuga. The center is near the airport, the dragster track - which hosts racing cars every weekend - and the Playmobil factory, also near a barracks of the Maltese army and a detention center for migrants. In a country with one of the highest population densities in the world, the shipwrecked of Malta are well isolated, trapped between the din of planes and that of dragsters, surrounded by container ships, airliners and racing cars overpowered.

Hal-Far is a field of tents, about forty tents that shelter a thousand people in the sweltering heat of summer or during the cold nights of winter. To protect them from rainwater, the tents were raised on concrete platforms to which we forgot to give an inclination, so that it is still necessary to place sandbags on the edges of the tents for the partially protect from the weather. There are around forty beds in tents, the lucky ones occupy the lower parts of the bunk beds, the upper ones cannot insulate their mattresses with cardboard and sheets to protect themselves from the cold and maintain a semblance of privacy . These people dream even more than the others of obtaining a place in the dormitories of Marsa. For a thousand people, there is a restaurant tent, a mosque tent, hard toilets and an office for the administration. Several times a week, itinerant stalls come to sell cheap goods, food that we cook on the ground, under the canvas of khaki tents.

Today, only "single men" live in this center. "Lone women" still lived there a short while ago, and they have just been relocated to prefabricated buildings nearby. The center which accommodates thirty refugee families and pregnant women is located in the same area, the buildings are dilapidated but hard. The sixty children and the presence of women make the atmosphere of the small collective rooms in which we live, sleep and cook a little warmer. Around an Eritrean cafe, Fatima says that the baby to whom she is breastfeeding was two months old when he crossed the Mediterranean on one of these frail boats leaving from Libya. She also explains that she spent nine months in a detention center where detainees can only go out two days a week, an hour a day.