MPs hear how migrants live in squalid, crowded premises, or tents on roofs

Proposals made to ease problems in Marsa

Marsa councillors made suggestions on ways to stop the exploitation of migrants and ease pressures on their hometown when they met members of the parliamentary Social Affairs Committee and Family Affairs Committee on Wednesday.

The committees were discussing the 'ghettoisation' of migrants in Marsa.

Marsa Deputy Mayor Josef Azzopardi said that many of those who congregated in Marsa in the mornings did not hold Maltese work permits. Rather, they would have come to Malta from other countries such as Italy and Greece, where they had been granted resident status.

In terms of the Dublin II Convention, migrants had been given the right to travel freely through the Schengen Area, but were restricted to working in the country where their status as refugees had originally been recognised; there was no way for these persons to seek legal employment.

As a result of the bad economic circumstances prevalent in many European countries, migrants who were unable to find work in the countries where they had a legal right to work came to Malta in search of gainful employment.

More often than not, however, they ended up seeking illegal, unsafe, and badly-paid work by Maltese contractors, who tended to collect labourers on a day-to-day basis from unofficial pick-up zones in Marsa.

Labour MP Etienne Grech questioned whether, in a recognition of this reality, recognised migrants with residency permits should be given the right to work anywhere in the Schengen Area.

Mr Azzopardi said he wondered why, despite the visibility of the problem, and despite the fact that authorities surely knew about the illegalities in question, exploitative practices of this sort were allowed to persist.  

His fellow local councillor Dominic Spencer explained that migrants were often left with no choice but to let out accommodation by the foot; groups of up to 30 migrants could be found abiding in 3-bedroom accommodations which had been rendered bare of furnishings, sleeping and eating on pieces of foam or carpet. These migrants paid €150 a month for an area of a few metres, or for the use of a tent on a roof.

Presenting a list of 20 proposals, Mr Spencer called for a clampdown on unregistered, illegal, and low-quality rents, and for the enforcement of rules establishing how many people were allowed to live in a given space.

He also called for the closure of an illegal mosque operating out of a private residence near Dun Ġorġ Chapel, which at 4am on Friday mornings drew crowds of up to 400 people.

Inspector Robert Fenech lamented “Marsa’s misfortune.”

The area had for years been forgotten about and neglected, he said. He also pitied the immigrants forced to live at the Open Centre, which, he said, was not fit for persons to live in.

No reports of attempted child stealing

The inspector insisted that reports of child-stealing or attempted child-stealing had never been received by the police, despite a widespread fear among some people, but he confirmed a Marsa resident’s report that immigrants tended to congregate and to drink at all hours of the day.

For this reason, the Police Commissioner had given instructions for a Rapid Intervention Unit vehicle to be stationed in Marsa at all times during the week, and for two such vehicles to be stationed there at the weekend.