The following are the interviews and portraits of all the participants:
Born 1991 in Zimbabwe
Zimbabwean born Matifadza (Mati for short) considers herself to have strong ties to her parents and elder brother, who still all reside in Africa. She finished her university studies in Cyprus and obtained a job through the European Erasmus plus programme. After a while, she came to know of a possible internship in Malta through Alec Douglas of Cross Culture International Foundation and, after applying, she was accepted. Primarily her internship involves work revolving around human resources and administration.
Although she has not been staying long in Malta, she actually arrived in September 2015; she has resided at various places around the island, namely Tarxien, Marsascala, Sliema, Swatar and Fgura! She was particularly fond of her Sliema and Marsascala residential periods as in these two towns she found friendly and helpful people. She finds Malta relatively cheaper and more manageable to live in than other countries that she has already resided in, yet she misses her family and the African food. On the other hand, she is glad to be able to explore and work in different and interesting places such as Malta. In fact, she is still young and, as most youths do, she does not intend to become tied so early to just one place, instead she would rather experience life wherever there is an opportunity for her to take.
When recounting about her experience in Malta, she has encountered some instances where she felt discriminated against or where people acted in a rude manner towards her. She particularly recalled one situation when she had to visit the Paola health clinic and she was left for a long time waiting to see a doctor. To make matters worse, the doctor on duty did not even see her and just left his cubicle even though he knew she was waiting for him to call her inside! On another occasion, whilst making a purchase in a shop, the shop owner threw the receipt at her in a very rude way and he didn’t even give her the change. She would have liked to assert her rights but decided against it for obvious reasons. Like many migrants she has found nurturing Maltese friends rather difficult and she primarily networks and relates more with her workmates and a handful of Maltese she has met at church. However, she still considers her stay in Malta to be a positive one and she particularly likes the scenery and the sea views of the island.
For her, it is vital that migrants should not be intimidated by the somewhat aloof air of the Maltese when they come in contact with migrants. The latter themselves need to try and make an effort to befriend and approach the Maltese and vice versa. Through her experience with the NGO she works with, she has found that the best way of approaching migrant communities is through someone who already has gained their trust; usually a common local person rather than a government official. In that manner a better more speedy understanding and rapport can be established and migrants can easily discover who really wants to help them. In fact, she has found certain migrant parents understandably wary of allowing their children to be educated and helped. This is natural as most of these migrants would not have had enough information and confidence as to who is trying to help out and who is perhaps trying to exploit and take advantage.
Born 1978 in Nigeria
Stephen did not leave Nigeria for just economical reasons. In his own words, his Nigerian family is well-off and they come from a good social background. In 2006, he left Nigeria in order to see more of the world as he loves to travel and discover other lands, cultures and societies. He arrived in Europe through France, going then straight to Italy where he worked in a restaurant. It is there that he met and married his present wife, a Hungarian who was also employed in Italy. After marriage, Stephen and his wife moved to Hungary where he worked with a manufacturing company. Hungary was not so economically sound and Stephen had a language communication problem. Thus, in 2010, the couple decided to move to Malta. This became possible because due to his marriage Stephen had gained the ability to move freely across European Union countries.
The couple’s main reason for choosing the island was that language in Malta was not a problem. Stephen, like most Nigerians, speaks good English so he could easily communicate with the Maltese. The weather was another deciding factor as Malta’s climate bears many similarities to that of Nigeria. In fact, Stephen feels it was the correct move as he declares that if he was to choose the best country he has yet resided in, he has no hesitation in selecting Malta. It is interesting that on his arrival at Luqa airport, he felt quite at home as not only were the local buses of the same colour as those in Nigeria but, at that time, the attitude of the drivers was also similar! Now he is pleased to note that bus drivers are smarter, more polite and more ready to communicate with foreigners.
In Malta, Stephen, who is of Christian faith, has worked with a telephone company and two security companies – JF and Group 4. He currently works for the latter and is mainly employed as security at ST Electronics. He enjoys his job and likes keeping fit by paying regular visits to a gym. He loves swimming and due to the island’s normally temperate weather, tries to find every opportunity to avail himself of the sea’s benefits. Stephen wants to improve his level of education so that he can better his family’s situation, thus he is attending a part time evening course in information technology at MCAST. Improved income would also enable him to better help out his relatives back in Nigeria – something which all Nigerians feel dutifully bound to do. In Malta, his wife managed to immediately secure a job and works at a hotel as a housekeeper. Curiously, Stephen thinks that his wife had been more discriminated than him and it took her more time to feel part of the community. Perhaps this is due to her quiet, shy and reserved disposition. The couple would be happy to raise their children in Malta but they would make sure that their children were aware of the background of their parents and that they would be taught to embrace a mixed culture community.
On the subject of employment, Stephen is adamantly opposed to people begging. He believes that with determination, hard work and good will, anyone can manage to earn an honest living. He further feels that during his stay in Malta, there has been a gradual improvement at how Maltese view foreigners. As Maltese travel, marry foreigners, work abroad and get in touch with other cultures, they evolve from an insular mentality to a global appreciation; they will realise that although there are different races, we are all human beings. Persons must not generalize – there are good and bad elements in all societies; people should definitely not judge other human beings by the colour of their skin or their country of origin Knowledge, respect, tolerance, integration, and inclusion are the keys to a better world.
Born in 1983 in ITALY
In 2009, Gisella, a typical independent European girl and the youngest of three sisters, left her parent’s home to live on her own. This is quite different to most Maltese youths who, for economic reasons as well as an ingrained cultural attachment to family life, seem not so inclined towards independent living as their European counterparts. This dependence to the somewhat sheltered life provided by their parents and their community may sometimes lead to a less sympathetic outlook on the plight of migrants coming to the island.
In search of travel and expanding her education, she chose to come to Malta mainly due to ease of communication as she is quite fluent in English. Initially, she found an opportunity to come as a volunteer through the European Voluntary Service (EVS) scheme and worked on a cultural project with the Fondazzjoni Temi Zammit on the rehabilitation of Strait Street, in Valletta. She was employed as project manager and thrown in rather at the deep end having to perform a wide amount of tasks which were outside her initial remit. At times, during this period, she was rather taken aback by the somewhat disorganised Maltese mentality. Furthermore, before moving to Malta, Gisella had lived in Marseilles where she noticed and cherished the open mindedness of the people there. In fact, it was a bit of a culture shock when she came to Malta and struggled to make new friends. She feels that minds tend to remain less open to change in small cities than in larger metropolis.
She considers herself as an outgoing person and enjoys socialising, yet, perhaps because of her Serbian partner, most locals seem to keep away from her. She had met her partner only four days after her arrival in Malta and it is a common, irritable occurrence to hear derogatory and prejudiced comments against Serbians from the Maltese. She also feels that in Malta there is a particular stigma against black people. It is strange that there is still this resistance to migrants when the island has such a long history of foreign rule and tourism is one of its main industries. This could possibly stem from the fact that a substantial number of migrants cannot communicate through language and this presents a stiff barrier to integration. The importance of elementary education should be underlined and encouraged for migrants, particularly starting with the very young. Most of these migrants embark on this difficult journey because of economic reasons or as refugees and probably will actually return to their countries should the situation improve. Thus by improving their level of education they will more likely have a better future. Those migrants who remain in the new country need to learn as much as possible about their new home and take heed not only of their rights but also of their responsibilities. Perhaps integration through practical support should be pressed more by the authorities.
On a totally different subject, Gisella wistfully misses well organised bicycle lanes on the island. The current chaotic arrangement is not conducive to cycling as one can easily risk his life. If this would be rectified, it would surely reflect in a healthier future population as well as reduce the problems of congested traffic. Gisella has a University of Malta PhD in Anthropology and is currently employed in a part time capacity and seeking a full time job.
Born 1971 in MOROCCO
Religion: ARABIC MUSLIM
Dounia initially came to Malta for a holiday after being encouraged by some friends and, whilst on the island, she met her Maltese husband. It was a whirlwind romance because after only a few days her husband proposed, Dounia accepted and they applied for civil union, and subsequently got married in 1994.
Prior to this, whilst she was in Morocco, Dounia had gained a diploma in sciences and began working at the customs department of her own country. At the beginning, she only had a basic command of English and definitely no experience of the Maltese language – she even had difficulty to communicate with her husband. Yet, Dounia is a determined woman and she wanted to make herself useful whilst on the island. This spurred her to take up evening courses in Maltese and English in order to better empower herself. In 1999, she accepted to represent her children’s primary school in Żebbuġ as a voluntary parent leader. Things moved fast and she was soon elected as PRO for the school council and even represented Malta and the same council in a European event in 2007. Her determination enabled her to land her first real paid job with the Fondazzjoni Edukattiva working on a European Union project called ‘Portafol’. Concurrently she made time to participate in a Maltese television programme with Claudette Pace that mainly provided Dounia with the opportunity of promoting Moroccan food and cooking. The project eventually spawned the publishing of a book on Moroccan cooking. This publication came out in 2009 through Sierra Publishers. Dounia does not do things in half measures and successfully underwent a course at the Institute of Tourism Studies in order to be better positioned to write and prepare the book. The catering business enthused her and she moved into working at a Maltese restaurant, however tutoring is her main passion and between 2010 and 2015 she has been teaching part time courses in Arabic and French to adults. In 2012, her innate drive to better her community led her to sit for local elections in Żebbuġ and then at St. Paul’s Bay in 2015. Unfortunately, she was not elected – it is not an easy task for a Muslim to be elected by the Maltese people even at local council level, but Dounia showed that she was not afraid of being a pioneer. In fact, she is not to be discouraged and in 2018 will again contest the elections in the 7th district of Żebbuġ.
Dounia’s first impression of Malta was that its society still treasures family values and close bonds are kept between children and parents. She feels that she was quickly and openly accepted in her village community of Żebbuġ. Initially she could sense some trepidation when people learned that she was Moroccan but as soon as they got to know her better, barriers dissipated in a short time. Learning Maltese has further helped her to get closer to the Maltese and learn more of the way their society functions. She believes that migrants should retain their own identity but that they should respect the laws of Malta and know well their responsibilities. She loves the family culture of Malta and the willing friendliness of her neighbours. For her, Malta feels like a second home and she enjoys the summer and warm weather which is quite similar to Morocco. When she compares the Maltese education system with that of her own country, she finds the former much more structured and competent. To her, this is important as her future is strongly connected to her children and giving them the opportunities that she herself lacked is paramount. She also feels strongly that all people should make an attempt to properly get to know a stranger before judging and discriminating against that person. The key to a better society is to acquire knowledge of each other’s culture and background and making a sincere effort to treat everyone as equal. Migrants need also accept and adapt to their situation, even though sometimes they may want to go elsewhere. They should never impose on society but rather think of contributing to their newly adopted country. For Dounia everyone should have equal rights.
The Moroccan Community in Malta amounts to around 250 families and there is a registered NGO to cater for the needs of this group. It is part of the LEAP project that aims at helping Moroccans to integrate better into the Maltese community and to know their responsibilities and their rights. Most Moroccans staying in Malta have a legal work permit or are married to Maltese citizens. Currently Dounia is the vice president of the Migrant Women Association Malta; an NGO that guides social victims and refugees coming from any nation or religion.
Ms. DANIELLE VAN ROOYEN
Born 1984 in SOUTH AFRICA
Danielle oozes an amazing positive spirit which is both admirable and delightfully infective. She has been in the teaching profession for over 8 years, spending three of them in South Africa at a multicultural private girls’ school, then in Cambodia teaching languages in an international entity and another year at a school in Khartoum, Sudan. In 2015, she was actively considering a change and, as so often happens, fate intervened and she was offered a teaching job in Malta. She had hardly heard about the island however she accepted. Today she teaches French and English languages and works in the same school’s Creativity Activity Service (CAS) programme. It was here that she first made contact with Malta’s Cross Culture International Foundation Initially, when she arrived here in August 2015, coming straight from a somewhat conservative country, the first thing she remembers most was her surprise at the scant manner that some girls dressed!
She considers Malta a country of social contrasts and convictions. Grey areas are somewhat absent and the Maltese are usually passionate about their convictions and beliefs. This may not always be to the detrimental as at times, the “middle ground” can be boring and not so stimulating. She also admires the fact that many Maltese hold to their traditions and roots as this helps maintain their interesting identity. On the other side of the coin, through her own experience, the Maltese are then quick to love and be loved. It does seem to take a considerable amount of time and effort to establish Maltese friends but the minute one makes the attempt, the locals are very forthcoming. This is quite similar to many other countries that have tight knit communities.
She loves living and working in Malta as she feels she has regained her own personal space. At first, this sounds rather strange, given the fact that she hails from such a large country as South Africa and that Malta is so tiny and crowded. Moreover she finds that the safety and liberty she encounters on the island is exceptional: she can go out late at night, exercise her jogging early in the morning or walk to school and not feel afraid. This freedom, together with the beautiful Maltese scenery, has beneficially impacted her everyday lifestyle.
Her feelings on how to actively improve integration between the Maltese and migrants are quite clear: it is those having the “power” who need to first extend their hand and help in order to “empower” those who are still trying to find their way in a country and society which is not their own. In fact, migrants cannot realistically do the first initial steps but local authorities and NGOs and, more importantly, individuals can. It is building face to face relationships between individuals which makes a foreigner feel part of a community. More specific programmes should be put into effect by the government with regards to this. Such initiatives need to be primarily aimed at bringing Maltese and migrants together through common interests such as, amongst others, music, art, dress, education and food.
Born in NIGERIA
Endeley came to Malta due to economical problems and a corrupt government in his country – Nigeria. Whilst still in his home country, he was working in an oil production facility but the facility was leaving a negative environmental impact on nearby surroundings. After a military coup and widespread corruption, his village was burnt down during a legitimate protest. Current Nigerian president supports an Islamic state and furthermore he used to represent Boko Haram. Nigeria’s previous leader, “Good Luck” Jonathan was more liberal and did not interfere with the judicial system. The problem of terrorism was amplified because for over 30 years, the Nigerian military was not adequately supplied with hardware and updated equipment which resulted in their failure to strongly contrast the militant group.
Endeley never intended to leave Nigeria before these events occurred, but when the police started harassing him, he decided it was time to leave. He set off from south Nigeria to the north, spending a night in Kano, and subsequently travelled on foot through Niger by hitching lifts on trucks and finally entered Libya through a border crossing. He remained 8 months in Tripoli where he frequently fell victim to prejudice and discrimination. He felt gradually depressed and actually contemplated going back to Nigeria. He recalls that migrant Christians were particularly treated badly, arrested in the streets with no reason and at times, after working for a whole week, he was not paid. Whilst in Libya he stayed with a friend and heard about Malta for the first time through a person from Congo.
Eventually, another friend of his, who knew the ropes of clandestine travel, helped him and arranged for his trip. The trip to Malta was not easy and due to his previous experience with boats in Nigeria, he was tasked to pilot the boat. They were around 36 persons on the vessel, which was intended to go to Italy. The group left from Misurata in 2004 and after two days and two nights they ended up in Malta due to a navigational mistake. They were picked up by the Armed Forces of Malta and escorted to the island. In Malta, he was taken to the detention centre in Safi where he was generally well treated. His first application for asylum was rejected and the resulting 18 months, first at the detention centre and then at the Marsa open centre, were difficult. He tried his best not to dwell on this situation and playing football regularly kept him sane. When he was transferred to the open centre, it was an improvement as he was free to move around and he could look for employment. After two weeks he landed a job with a construction company and moved to Mtarfa. In 2006/7 he tried to play and train with Santa Lucija Football Club but found it difficult as he still had to work to maintain himself. Subsequently he worked with the Arriva bus company but after the latter stopped operating prematurely, he luckily managed to get a job with Island Beverages(H2O) who treated him with respect.
Endeley considers himself fortunate that three years ago he met a Maltese girl through the internet and, in 2012, they eventually married. Her father, who hails from Cospicua, is a kind and honest person and Endeley had no problems being accepted by his wife’s family. He considers Malta a safe country and loves the similar warm weather he was used to in Nigeria. However the cold, humid spells frequently encountered during Malta’s winters took him some time to get used to.
His father, who is now over 72 years old, is a respected village chief (similar to a village mayor) and comes from what is considered a royal blood-line in Nigeria. Endeley tries to support his Nigerian parents, who had 18 children, as best as he can and he frequently talks to his mother who is happy for what he has found in Malta. After 5 years married to his Maltese wife, he looks forward to gaining Maltese citizenship and raising a family in Malta – although one has to be careful as it is economically difficult to have children today. He says there is nothing to dislike about Malta; he loves the environment, the sea, and the lifestyle. He wishes to study further and his dream is to work in music production. He was already doing music mixing and mastering in Nigeria. He is definitely a diligent and forward-looking person and his iron determination will surely enable him to succeed.
Born 1990 in MALTA
Mary Grace was actually born in Malta in 1990, but she has spent most of her life in Italy. Her father is Italian whilst her mother is Maltese. She has 2 older brothers.
In November 2015, she came back to Malta from Sicily, looking for a better economical and job situations on the Island. Being herself of Maltese origin, she had no problem at all in being accepted in Malta and fortunately had no issues whatsoever with regards to discrimination. At present, she is working in Malta on a traineeship scheme with the Employment and Training Corporation (ETC).
In the past few months, she struggled to adapt to the Maltese context and to make new friends in Malta and although back in Sicily she has a lot of friends with whom she often hangs out, the situation in Malta is completely the opposite. However, since she joined the non-profit organisation she works with, she started meeting people and making friends and this makes her stay in Malta more pleasant. Mary Grace has a passion for literature, she loves reading books and this is a great opportunity for her to improve her Maltese and English languages as although she can speak and understand both, she still struggles to express herself as easily as she can in Italian. She stresses that communication is ever so important if integration can flourish at all. More should be done by the responsible authorities as well as by NGOs to try and raise awareness particularly in those persons who are neither for nor against migration and integration. Granted, it is a very difficult situation, but more so for this purpose it is vital that this section of society should be researched and studied. A factual knowledge on what actually makes such persons undecided or downright contrary to migration needs to be identified in order to be effectively addressed. If such obstacles are not known, how can they be removed? All strategies should be based on factual statistics and empirical research as this will ensure that available resources and efforts are not wasted or misdirected and put to the best use possible. Maltese people should also attempt to learn more the background and culture of migrants and migrants, on their part, should learn more in depth what is the culture of the Maltese. This is only possible through education and bringing people from all walks of life together. It has to be a fair trade between all sides and all sections of society need to do their part.
She feels that her stay in Malta has been a happy and fruitful one, yet she misses Italy and her hometown and should the opportunity arise to find a satisfactory employment, she would not hesitate to go back to her country.
Born in Serbia in 1991
A refreshingly vibrant and positive person, Vanja came to Malta with a visa in February 2015. Her parents, who are still both alive, were happy that she opted to go to a European country instead of a far away continent. Prior to coming to Malta, Vanja had already obtained a BA (Hons.) in Special Rehabilitation and Education – module drug addiction. Vanja had served her internship in United States of America on drug addiction rehabilitation with war veterans from Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran etc. Her final thesis was on Differences in Personality Traits between heroin addicts and the general population. In Serbia, besides the high rate of unemployment, the average wage is around €350 a month and, mostly due to this situation, the country is unfortunately plagued with crime. Everyday needs are also as expensive as those in Malta, so one can imagine the difficulties encountered in this central European country. Vanja learned about Malta only through geography. She had already successfully gained a Master degree in drug addiction rehabilitation in Serbia but, besides securing a job, she wanted to further her studies on the island.
In Malta, she started giving counselling sessions to drug addicts through a Sedqa internship programme but due to the fact that she was not a European Union citizen; she was not given a permanent job. When applying for work in Malta, employers found excuses such as that she was over-qualified or that she was friendly with Africans so she could carry diseases! Furthermore, for a Third Country National (TCN) to find employment in Malta, the job in question must not be able to be carried out by an EU citizen as the latter are always given preferential treatment over TCNs. She feels that she has had a somewhat cold reception from Maltese society and some people shrink away when she is seen with Africans. Particularly in Paceville, it is a frequent occasion that persons come over to ask black people to leave a public place. Whilst in Malta, the people who have helped her most are actually Africans; Sudanese, Nigerians, Ghanaians and Eritreans have all been willing to help her even though they have their own dire situations. An exception to the rule is Dr. George Grech, from Sedqa, who has been a real friend for Vanja.
Recently, she was working as an assistant and receptionist at a dental clinic. She is sure that she would not have secured this employment if she was a black person, as the clinic would surely lose clients because of racial prejudice. She is currently collaborating and working with the Franciscan Capuchin friars and helping to establish a “Foundation of Peace and Good” (called ‘Pace e Bene’). The main aim of this foundation is to support and educate migrants, particularly Africans and East Europeans, in order to prevent drug addiction. Education is the most vital part of integration – both Maltese and migrants need to be educated so that they can then themselves be empowered to go out into society and schools in order to educate other migrants. Apart from communication skills, factors that help integration are music, food, and better knowledge of other cultures, customs and art. On the other hand, religion and politics can often divide if not rightly understood.
The creation of setting up an open informal multi-racial forum where people can just meet, network and share their experiences can surely aid integration and enable migrants to start really feeling part of a community. Major problems that migrants face are the lack of job prospects and a dearth of opportunities that could otherwise help them mix with Maltese society. A further worry is that a substantial number of migrants come from countries that totally ban alcohol and then, suddenly, they are plunged into a totally new system on arrival in European countries. Some of these tend to stray into alcoholism as a way of becoming ‘accepted’ by their new communities or self-medicating their trauma in a bid to reduce their high level of anxiety. Naturally, language and communication are vitally important. Vanja would like to have a future with UNHCR through a scholarship, perhaps in Africa, in order to beneficially contribute on surmounting migration problems.
Born 1985 in GHANA
Sampson comes from a numerous Ghanaian family of 8 children. He decided to leave Ghana due to economic difficulties as well as because of the impossibility to finish his studies in his home country. Initially, he went to Italy and remained there for five years, working with a company involved in travel and tourism. He dearly wished to continue his studies in Italy but he found it quite challenging as Italian is a requirement and he couldn’t communicate in their language. Eventually, a friend of his told him about Malta which is English friendly with more than 80% of the population able to speak English. This decided him to come to the island where he could communicate much more easily in the English language. He actually did not have a passion for the travel and tourism business, instead he was always fascinated by computers and information technology. When he arrived in Malta, in 2012, he enrolled for a course at the Institute of Computer Education (ICE) and, after just seven months, he successfully obtained a certification in IT Essentials.
He had to pay for this course as it was run by a private college and this, coupled with the cost of accommodation and food, proved extremely hard to maintain without a job. Initially, Sampson stayed for two months with another Ghanaian friend who was already living in Malta. Sampson’s friend supported him in his most difficult period. However, this could not go on indefinitely and at a certain point he had to go into employment. He worked in the construction business for five months where he used to typically work from 7am to 5pm for just €30! Coming from a student background, he was not cut out for this work and discontinued as he could not take the hardship and the stress anymore. He promptly began searching for another job but it was nearly impossible to get a work permit. His lucky break came when another African friend, who ran an internet cafè and call centre, employed him on a trial period. He has now been at this workplace for over a year and has managed to slowly ameliorate his situation. Still, he needs to keep investing in tools and software for his trade as it is his dream to become an Internet Service Provider (ISP). This is undoubtedly a slow process due to his limited means.
He feels that Malta is somewhat better than Italy as far as discrimination and prejudice are concerned. However, he has had some bad experiences such as when his tablet computer was stolen from him. This was a huge blow due to his meager resources. On a different occasion, when he went to an office to apply for an IT job, he was plainly told that his place was working in the construction business. On yet another instant, while Sampson was working at the internet cafè, a person brought in a computer for repair which had been stolen. The police ended up interrogating Sampson, who had no idea about this. When faced with discrimination, he tries hard not to react in a bad way, but on the contrary attempts to reason or do things which will impress his detractors. The job situation for migrants in Malta is dire even when migrants are either professionals or talented. Employers take advantage of the migrants’ desperate need for money and that is how a number of migrants end up accepting underpaid jobs. Migrants argue amongst themselves because when a migrant refuses to accept a job due to bad pay or conditions, there a host of others ready to accept those same conditions. It is in fact a “take it or leave it” situation for most migrants.
In detention centers and migrant communities, religion also tends to divide, particularly when it is of the extremist type. Education is the basis for integration and migrants need also explore and appreciate the point of view of the Maltese. Like most black migrants, Sampson has very few Maltese friends; in fact he has only one good Maltese friend and this is probably because she is married to an African man and is thus sympathetic of the situation of such migrants. Not only does Sampson need to maintain himself in Malta but, back in Nigeria, he has an eight year old girl whom he must support and send to a private school.
Born in Sudan in 1972
Umayma is married to a Sudanese diplomat who worked in Libya. She had met her husband whilst working in a bank in Sudan, her home country. In Sudan not much progress seems to have been achieved and, although good education and involvement in politics do exist, there are still not enough fair opportunities for everyone. Due to the Libyan civil war and the subsequent unrest, the couple did not want to remain there, particularly because of their young children; one son and one daughter. Their children’s education is of the utmost importance and after considering various options, they chose to come to Malta due to better language communication. Eventually, the children were enrolled at the Verdala International School. They took a little while to adapt to the school’s different American styled education system; it was a far cry from the ones they had previously engaged with in Libya and Sudan. On the other hand, as most students come from a wide variety of countries and cultures, it was relatively easy for the children to integrate at Verdala. Umayma considers the schooling of her children as the most important issue for their future and would like them to successfully finish secondary school and perhaps even continue their studies at Malta University. Due to the nature of his work, her husband is often abroad so most of the responsibilities of raising the children fall on her shoulders.
In Malta, Umayma is actively involved in volunteering work in order to help women combat discrimination and enhance their level of education. It is vital for migrants to gain knowledge and become aware of their rights, the availability of training programmes and any other schemes that are available and will help them settle in their new land. Achieving a healthy community is a two way process; both migrants and the Maltese should endeavour to integrate. The way forward is for everyone to learn each other’s culture and way of life. More needs to be done in schools to teach local children about the countries of origin of migrants and more should also be done to educate migrants about their new host country. In most of the countries of origin of migrants and refugees, particularly those coming from Muslim societies, a woman’s role is entirely different from that in western countries. Women are mostly kept back and so it is beneficial to educate and empower them so that they can live better lives whilst enjoying the same rights that their male counterparts do.
She admires the work being done by most church entities in Malta as here all migrants are welcome with no discrimination of country, race, colour or religion. In 2015, Umayma founded the Migrant Woman Association (Malta) and has been its president ever since. The main aims of this association are to educate and empower women. SOS Malta enthusiastically supports this association and has even provided them with the use of a temporary office. The association actively sources out and encourages persons to join up and become part of the group. SOS Malta helped in no small way to support Umayma’s work in the community. George from SOS Malta, a friend of Umayma, is always ready to give her valid advice on practical matters. Fr. Alfred, a parish priest at St Julian’s openly welcomed her in church and she considers him an amazing individual. She regularly networks with social groups and participates in events at the church; this has enabled her to become more knowledgeable about Maltese society. She also mentioned the great help and friendship of “her guardian angel;” Claudia Taylor East, the chief executive officer of SOS Malta. Umayma’s command of the English language has helped immensely as she can easily communicate and gain support particularly in the Swieqi area, where she resides. She has found that the majority of people in Malta have been very welcoming and only a few individuals showed a negative approach to her, such as in a bus or at a shop.
For Umayma, education and language are the main keys towards better integration and empowerment. This is not surprising for a woman who has graduated in management from Khartoum University; worked as an accountant in a private company, a translator in the Saudi Arabian embassy in Zambia and has been involved in the public relation sectors in Sudan and Libya.
JOSEPH JNR ONONUJU
Born 1989 in Nigeria
Joseph’s passion has always been football, and his early life revolves around the game. Since childhood, his natural talent has inspired him to work in the field he likes best. His talent did not go unnoticed as he had been chosen to train at the Pepsi Academy in Nigeria and he was selected for the Nigerian under 16 squad that represented the country during the World under-16 championships in Austria, in 2004. The Nigerians won the youth tournament, achieving the country’s first ever world title at international level.
The tournament was the ideal platform for Joseph’s skills to be noticed by talent scouts and in 2005 an Italian contact invited him to Italy for trials. The Italian club arranged everything for Joseph and, in order to play there, he was actually adopted by an Italian family in Mantova. Eventually, he was engaged to play with Montechiaro, a Serie C 1 team in Brescia. His stay in Italy continued for five years with various stints and trials until a move to France in 2010 when Joseph went to play for Rouen. This move did not really work out and after only one year, Joseph moved on to Poland and started playing with Zawakwe FC.
Joseph still considers Italy his second home, however he felt too cut off and lonely in France. Nigerians are traditionally very attached to their families and it is one of Joseph’s main hardships to be separated from his relatives for a long time. Like most Nigerians, Joseph had learned the English language when still at school as Nigeria puts a lot of effort in teaching children this very important language. There is a high rate of English speakers in Nigeria and for the less academic, a vernacular form of practicing the English language is in everyday use. This ‘pidgeon’ English enables more rural Nigerians to communicate between themselves through a common language. This is more than necessary as there are 366 different ethnic languages in Nigeria!
Joseph’s stay in Poland did not endure either, and in 2013, after less than three years, a chance arose for him to come to Malta. This constant moving is also due to the fact that a third country national can normally only manage to obtain permission to stay in a country for up to two years. After that, it becomes harder to get the necessary permits to remain in the country. Most players in this situation are rarely given contracts of over two years. In Joseph’s own words, the system is difficult for those wanting to settle down in one place. When a Maltese football manager contacted him and offered him to come to the island to play football for Kirkop, Joseph accepted. He was not too happy in Poland and it was there that he felt racial discrimination the most. Many a time he was looked upon with distrust, called names and threatened. To add to all this, he had also struggled to communicate as most Poles do not speak English. To the contrary, Joseph settled well in Malta and eventually moved on to Marsascala FC, the club he is still currently playing with. A positive influence on Joseph has been the President of Marsascala, Reuben Buttigieg, who he considers as his second father. Reuben’s attitude towards foreigners was different from that of others and he has always been at hand to offer advice and help. Joseph is definitely not an idle person and besides playing full-time for Marsascala, he wanted to do other things. In 2014, Reuben, who is also a shrewd businessman, offered Joseph the chance to manage a sports shop in Marsascala. The latter willingly accepted and he now happily runs this outlet, called Maskot, which is ideally associated with what he knows best – sport. Joseph realises that playing football is not forever and his future ambition is to branch out more into business.
Joseph met his Maltese wife through a friend and the chemistry between them was instant. They married in 2014 and live at Swieqi. Vicki, Joseph’s wife, is a make-up artist by profession. Her general friendly attitude, sociable approach and manners immediately attracted Joseph who was convinced that she was the woman he would like to share the rest of his life with. She was not interested in race or colour but views everyone as equal. His new Maltese in-laws, who happily own and work in a little farm in Swieqi, were very much of the same opinion as their daughter and they gave their blessings to the union. He sadly notices the tendency of most Maltese to stay at a distance from him if they do not know him. They are reluctant to see what kind of person one is and generally treat one with suspicion. Maltese should mix more freely with other societies. Contact will teach them to acknowledge the fact that, although through our conditioning, we all look at issues from a different perspective, we are basically and fundamentally the same. It would be ideal if everyone, even for a short period, could step into each other’s shoes and exchange roles. It would surely raise awareness of how discrimination, prejudice and segregation hurt the victims.
Born 1978 in TUNISIA
Kodes arrived in Malta with a visa in May 2014. She came to Malta from Italy and invested in a small business in St. Julian’s. Since 2011, she has been married to an Italian man and they have two children, one 4 years of age and the other 2. The latter was born in Malta.
As she is still raising her children, she can only currently handle part time jobs and in fact she teaches at reduced hours at a language institution in Malta. Kodes actually has a degree in English but she found the level of education in Malta rather high when compared to that of Tunisia so she strives to continue learning in order to be competitive in the job sector.
Like most mothers, her main preoccupation is her children’s future and education. She wishes to see herself and her family building up a stable and permanent future in Malta. She is impressed by the local laws, by the Maltese who at every level of the society, are hard-working, committed and efficient in their everyday life. Kodes thinks that this is perhaps due to the fact that the Maltese have a strong civic consciousness. Her experience on the island has been a very positive one as the institutions have respected all the human rights provided by the Maltese and International laws. For Kodes, there is a good level of appreciation of human rights on the island and the government institutions she has come into contact with were efficient and helpful. There are also a good number of education programs and courses which are in place and easily attainable through the Employment Training Corporation (ETC). So help is definitely at hand for those who want and need it.
About the Maltese, she feels that although they have been willing to help her in all ways possible, they do hesitate to mix with migrants and sometimes they exclude them from social life. At times, even when migrants make the effort, they are still generally not accepted because people in Malta do not really feel the need to socialize with foreigners. In fact, she has currently enlisted her daughter for football training as she is convinced that sport is a great way of ‘breaking the ice’ and getting people to meet and learn from each other. She is frightened that if not enough is done to integrate migrants, not only through language studies and teaching the foundations of modern Maltese society, but particularly in encouraging ways for practical integration, there is the danger of isolating certain groups of migrants which can be detrimental not only to themselves but also to the island’s society as a whole. The main work needs to be put into effect during the formative years of migrant children; letting them socialise only in churches or mosques is not really the ideal solution – it is important that children mix in practical, modern, every day life scenarios that will make them feel part of a community.
Most migrants coming from third world countries might lack a basic level of education therefore it is imperative that local authorities make it a priority to empower such migrants to learn and improve any skill that might help in their future. From their part, migrants need to make the utmost of all opportunities to gain knowledge and make themselves useful in their community. It is only through this that they can build a solid future in any other country. Art, food, music and sport are surely some of the best catalysts that can make this materialise.
Finally, Kodes is thankful and encouraged as she is convinced that this island is blessed with many Maltese who have an inbred goodness in them which shines out the more one gets to know them. This makes her feel extremely positive about her family’s future in Malta.
Born in Ghana in 1979.
(*”Zsixteen” is a stage name – his proper name is Awelaga Aseba)
‘Zsixteen’ left Ghana in September 2001, transiting through the Niger desert into Libya, where he lived for some years whilst learning to work as a plasterer and painter. His decision to leave Ghana was economic, coupled with the fact that there was no real help or opportunity to improve his situation. Searching for a better life, together with other migrants, he crossed to Malta by boat. When they eventually reached the land, he thought it was Italy but they had actually arrived in Sliema, on the rocks at the bottom of il-Fortizza. They had lost their way and made land by following some dolphins – they knew that these would usually go close to land. It was a close shave as the boat had developed a dangerous leak, yet they managed to plug this with some bread!
He was detained at the Hal Far detention centre for 1 year, 6 months and 12 days – it was so depressing that he was counting each day! He considered it as not much better than a prison because of his lack of freedom. He states that playing football with the other inmates kept him sane. In fact, in 2010, he played with a Birkirkara 2nd division football team. All the players were migrants yet they were coached by a Maltese trainer. He had to reluctantly stop as there was no pay at all and the long training hours prevented him from working to earn a living. He actually had two appeals rejected before he was finally allowed to move to the Open Centre. When the move materialized, he tried his best to earn a meager living by washing cars and doing anything that came his way. Back home, his father had died and he needed to try to help his family as best as he could. Eventually he met a Ghanaian friend who helped him to find a job in the building trade. He also started doing some work by himself. In 2013, in Paceville, he met Ruth Xuereb, a much travelled independent Maltese girl. The two clicked right away as they share many common interests; for them their religion is important and an integral part of their lives. Zsixteen is a staunch and practicing Christian and also an active member of CYO a Roman Catholic youth organisation. Thankfully, Ruth’s parents accepted Zsixteen totally and they have been extremely supportive and helpful to both.
In Ghana, an ex-British colony, he had learnt to speak the English language and he had also studied music. Music is his passion and he is not only a singer, but writes his own music too. He is still currently doing plastering work but his dream is to be able to earn a living from his music. However he knows there is not much opportunity and that this will be difficult. He has strong views and convictions and always prefers to think positive. Zsixteen believes in working and pushing hard to achieve what he wants to reach. He is happy to live in Malta and he particularly mentions his first employer, who was extremely respectful and helpful.
Is the situation getting any better in Malta? He feels that generally it is, yet in clubs and entertainment spots he has many times experienced hostility, prejudice and discrimination. The government should support migrants more when they come out from the Open Centre as it is here that they are most in need of help. Communication is also vital for integration and this could be encouraged through many facets, even through studying and explaining the Bible. On their part, migrants should also strive to behave well and do good in order to be more appreciated in their ‘adopted’ societies. Finally, all people should realise that there are good and bad persons in all countries, races and religions.
Born 1987 in Germany
Sabrina is glad to have come to Malta freely and of her own choice; unlike most migrants who have had this difficult decision forced upon them due to their country’s problematic situations and limited opportunities.
She first came to Malta as a summer school student working for an NGO on a project dealing with irregular migration and refugee situations in Malta. She has a strong character and, like most young people on the continent, she was already an independent person as she had previously lived on her own. Like most parents, hers were supportive of her decision to come to Malta as long as it was what she wanted. Initially, she was rather taken aback by the stifling hot weather that she experienced on the island together with the transport problem; the main issues were the lack of information provided on how the bus routes work coupled with the irregular times of the bus service. Air pollution and rubbish also affected her adversely.
However, she was pleased at the way people treated her as, in their vast majority, they were friendly. It was an experience similar to what she had previously encountered in other cities and countries. Yet she did have a bad experience at a health centre where an attendant was rude and not at all helpful. Still, such isolated instances are not uncommon even to citizens of Malta. Eventually, Sabrina fell in love not only with the island but with her partner. It was not a light decision to come to Malta but the fact that she had a serious relationship with someone made it easier and more manageable.
Sabrina is striving to learn the Maltese language because she is looking towards employment in the social aid sector; thus communication is extremely important and necessary. She eventually intends to work with the local Richmond Foundation. She is convinced that it is imperative that migrants learn at least a bit of their host country’s language. They also need to engage with and learn more about Maltese society, customs and their way of life. Here, NGO organisations are crucial but these should act more as initial catalysts and then slowly give way, stay in the background and let persons in the community take over.
When discussing what more can be done to aid integration, she feels that events should be held even in small communities and villages. Such events should be ongoing and non-profit organisations should encourage a wider participation of individuals from local and migrant communities that come respectfully together from different cultural backgrounds in order to interact and exchange views and customs.. These gatherings are a great opportunity to bridge the gap between migrants and Maltese by aiding communication between them, not necessarily through language, but through other channels such as, music, sport, arts, history, dress and food. Projects and initiatives like these should be taken to the community and not the other way round, in this way a wider portion of the population will be reached and the risk of preaching to the converted will be minimised.
One can only have admiration at Sabrina’s determination to not only personally succeed in life but to continue contributing to society. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that she had walked for the interview held in San Anton Gardens in Attard all the way from Marsascala! That is a strong will…
Born 1984 in Zimbabwe
Nathan came to Malta in April 2015 after applying for a two year internship with Cross Culture International Foundation, an NGO based in Malta. After successfully finishing a diploma course in IT studies in South Africa and doing voluntary work in Namibia, he wanted to expand his horizons by working in other places of the world. Gaining the internship was an ideal way of achieving this. His actual post consists of re-designing the NGO’s website and running and maintaining the various blogs and information data that are essential for an NGO to further disseminate its message. He is also in charge of network and computer maintenance.
Nathan has found living in Malta manageable although some essential things are becoming rather expensive for his limited resources. He considers himself fortunate to be able to speak English fluently and thus communicate with most people in Malta, yet he is active in trying to learn at least some basic Maltese words as he believes that communication is the key between people coming from different societal and cultural backgrounds. He is quite happy with the cost and service of Malta’s public transport although he does not use it to go to his work place as the latter is within comfortable walking distance from his home. In his spare time, he is further helping out by teaching migrant children languages and other subjects which will aid their integration and improve their future. These are being held at Floriana at the place they are residing at. He strongly believes that if people do not know at least the bare minimum of the local language or, worse still, cannot communicate in any way, they will retire in their own limited sphere or group and fail to benefit both themselves and society. It is a situation which can lead to dreaded ‘Ghettoes.’
Nathan is surprised to have encountered, even at some official NGO or governmental conferences, main public speakers who sometimes delivered their speeches in Maltese when the audience consisted of persons who did not know the language! At such meetings, there is sometimes a tendency that during networking sessions, some persons do not make the effort of communicating through a common language. It would be beneficial for everyone to make sure that during such events a language understood by all is exercised. Furthermore there also seems to be a lack of local government initiatives aimed at teaching Maltese and English language to migrants. Such schooling is commonly left to NGOs which sometimes might not really be equipped and financed enough to successfully deliver such education.
Nathan has not met any undue discrimination or hostility whilst in Malta, yet he has heard of some instances, particularly in places like Paceville, where migrants have been treated badly or violently and obviously discriminated. He stressed that it is quite important that migrants identify such areas and try their best to stay clear of them as the authorities can obviously not always be there to protect them. There are surely other places of entertainment which are not so controversial. Unfortunately he finds that there is a pre conceived approach amongst people coming from different societies, countries and religions. More concerted steps need to be taken in getting all different groups of people not to abandon their own teaching or cultural background but to start obtaining more information and knowledge on how other people live. It is vital to try and integrate through interests which are common to all, such as music, food, history and art.
Nathan is still young and he does not have any concrete plans for the future. If there is the chance of adequate employment after his internship, he is happy to stay in Malta. However what he misses most from his home country is the unrefined and unprocessed food of Zimbabwe. He is not so happy with the processed food found in western countries such as Malta. Perhaps this issue could be taken up by an entrepreneurial African migrant . . .
Born 1994 in MALTA
Laura is a Maltese national so her outlook on migrants is coming from another totally different perspective. She is a third year Bsc student who is studying occupational therapy. Although she has involved herself in some voluntary organisations, she has no real experience in working closely with migrants yet she has a very good friendship with a black student and a Swedish girl. Laura was part of a ‘Media for Inclusion’ youth exchange project in 2015. The project brought together 60 youths from different countries, cultural, racial and religious backgrounds, to freely discuss issues related to inclusion which they felt were important. It was a great team building exercise and it drew the participants closer together as they began realising that the group had many interests in common. A Facebook group was eventually formed, which is still active to this day, keeping them in contact with each other and further enhancing ties. Direct social gatherings are extremely helpful as they spark interest in each other’s culture and cement friendships. Cultural events and food also unite people of all races and creeds. Such initiatives have for quite some time been regularly organized by some NGO groups such as SOS Malta and Cross Culture International Foundation.
Laura herself has no problem whatsoever with migrants and actually admires them for their determination and efforts. The Maltese local government seems to be helping and trying its best to handle this tricky situation which has globally impacted our world. For Laura, education is the vital key: traumatised, uneducated and emarginated people will not contribute to society and are more apt to become marginalised and discriminated or, worse still, radically inclined. On the other hand, integration can only be achieved if an effort is made from both sides – migrants and Maltese should both make a concerted effort. It is vital that already educated migrants should try to go that little extra mile in order to help nurture and educate others who have previously been denied access to education. Laura believes that learning and being able to communicate in the host country’s language is imperative and is one of the primary issues essential for integration; communication is not really possible without a common language. Migrants should make a determined effort to master important languages – particularly English – as they will find it useful even if they eventually move to another country. Laura believes that migrants should conform to the legislation of their host country and not attempt to impose the laws they were perhaps used to in their own countries.
Laura definitely feels that migrants, particularly those who have dark skin, are discriminated in Malta when it comes to job applications. If two persons have identical skills and job suitability, very often a white person is chosen over a black person. Black migrants tend to feel that most Maltese them as inferior. This seems to be more evident where older generations are concerned as local youngsters tend to be more accepting towards other cultures due to today’s mix in education, social media and the sharing of common interests. Online media is perhaps closing the gap between different societies and it makes people aware of different cultural backgrounds, customs, societies, religious beliefs and political issues. Hopefully, the internet era can be beneficial in moving people away from racism and prejudice. It is somewhat ironic, that most Maltese wholeheartedly accept migrants in sports or in the entertainment sector. This could be a factor that all sides involved in the difficult challenge of integration might do well to explore.
When reflecting about religion, Laura feels that sometimes religion can actually divide. All people, whatever their religion, need to distance themselves from fanatics in their midst and vociferously denounce senseless terrorist acts – in whatever name they are performed. Terrorism and violence breeds only hate.
Born 1984 in Bulgaria
Religion: Greek Orthodox
Katina hails from Bulgaria and her love for travel and exploration, coupled with her thirst for learning, took her to London. Like most youths in central Europe, Katina is rather independent and at 17 she had already started travelling on her own. Although she liked the multi cultural society of London, she found it prohibitively expensive to remain and thus, after two years in England, she decided to move to somewhere which was more manageable, particularly for a student’s means. During an educational fair in Bulgaria, she heard about Malta for the first time. On exploring the possibility of moving to Malta, she discovered that university fees on our island were reasonable and that the daily cost of living was within her limits. Thus, in October 2004, she came to Malta to study for a three year BA (Hons.) in International Relations and a Masters in International law. It was not plain sailing as during her initial years of residence in Malta, Bulgaria was still not part of the European Union so she could not obtain a work permit on the island.
Although young and not really thinking of settling down, after just one year she met her Maltese boyfriend, Farren and since then they have been together for eleven years. Gradually, with Bulgaria eventually becoming part of the European Union, Katina managed to find employment with a local Foundation where she stayed for five years. Subsequently, she moved on and she is currently employed with the Ministry for the Energy and Health. She is also co-founder of the Foundation for Empowering Gender Equality.
A person who has completed a thesis on cultural integration, Katina is in an ideal position to input her ideas on this controversial subject. Her main argument for better integration revolves around education. For her, it all hinges not only whether people have been educated but what kind of education has been absorbed. More educational opportunities for migrants, preferably on a par with those offered to Maltese citizens, should be encouraged. Education related to integration, for both migrants as well as Maltese born children, should start at a very early age so it can thus become ingrained in every child’s psyche. One thing which surprised her on the island is that only relatively low numbers of Maltese read meaningful literature and publications. This needs to be addressed in order to broaden a citizen’s knowledge base and encourage reflective thought.
Most foreign countries see integration in a different manner to the majority of the Maltese. Migrants should not only be helped because of humanitarian reasons but also because their skills and cultures can actually enrich local society.
She feels it is wrong to try and combine cultures into one and each society or culture should basically retain its charm and individuality. It is rather counter-productive that everyone becomes similar; the way forward is that people hailing from different backgrounds, societies, colour and religion should make a concerted effort to learn more about each other and embrace multi-culturalism not as a necessary evil but as a way towards a better empowered society. Segregation should be avoided at all costs and one of the most vital issues that need to be surmounted is the language barrier. If migrants are not ‘fast tracked’ into learning how to communicate, there is the danger of marginalisation. Time for such monumental changes is obviously necessary but through small, yet positive steps, improvement can be attained. Katina dislikes carelessness and egoism in society and each individual should do his/her best to become more considerate of other persons. Carelessness is not an easy mentality to eradicate. Some people are unwilling to change as they are comfortable and unaffected by the status quo.
To gain more information on this issue, a Questionnaire was formulated and sent out to Maltese nationals. The findings can be downloaded from this Link:
Further information on this project:
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