The Immigration Focus Group, made up of a group of students within University, released a policy paper entitled Immigration in Malta: Integration through Education. The paper follows a series of events taking place year that highlighted the situation for immigrants here in Malta; a situation that has exposed hidden realities for people living among us such as homelessness, unfair working conditions, and most of all irregular migrants drowning in the pursuit of finding a better life while crossing the Mediterranean Sea.
While the discussion on migration has mostly been taken over by political discourse on whether or not immigrants should be received by countries and under what conditions, the paper focuses on shedding light on the realities of those who live in Maltese society and attend our University – from their arrival to our country all the way to when they leave campus. The paper views education as a tool for integration, and the University campus as a bridge between the migrant and Maltese society.
Here are some of the main features of the paper:
1) Exposing how difficult it is for irregular immigrants to become independent
Communicating in a foreign language, having to sign in for their accommodation multiple times per day and coping with very little financial assistance is a reality for many immigrants in Malta. This means that persons aspiring to start or continue their education must first deal with a number of barriers before entering university.
2) High fees barring access to foundation courses
Due to the different education system in third States, most migrants in Malta wishing to enter University must follow a foundation course. While upon entering University, persons under international protection may study in Malta for free, the foundation course fees may be as high as €6,600 for foundation studies in Business Studies, Science, Engineering and ICT, or Humanities, to €10,000 for Medical, Dental and Health Sciences. Besides this, IELTS certification is required for students to enter the course – another expensive entry requirement!
3) Appalling housing situation
The housing market has been subject of much debate recently, with rental prices seeming to get higher and higher by the year. This summer a story broke over immigrants having to resort to living in degrading conditions because they lack the ability to afford or find decent housing assistance. Some were reduced to living in cow sheds. The Focus Group met with the Ministry for Home Affairs and National Security and were told that such persons were not even the responsibility of Malta as they were irregular immigrants from Italy who had accepted work in Malta. This is a shocking response, considering every individual living in Malta is entitled to decent living conditions as guaranteed by human rights law.
4) NGO Boat and sea rescue
Human lives should take prevalence over everything. Nonetheless, the policy paper recognises the concern over the potential for NGO rescue boats to aid the smuggling of irregular migrants to Europe. While the paper recognises the need for these boats to be able to do their jobs and save human life, it also recognises the need for them to cooperate with authorities and have proper licencing whilst working towards eradicating smuggling.
5) The Visibility (or lack thereof) of representation of minority groups on campus
Our University boasts a variety of students from different nations, religions, cultures and ethnicities. The policy paper however shows concern over the fact that these groups are under represented both amongst student organisation bodies as well as activism and discussion forums on campus. This is an issue because it is both understandable and undeniable that when being in a foreign place and facing so many obstacles in society an individual may find themselves in overwhelming loneliness. A familiar face or language will make migrant students feel comfortable and settle in on campus. It is therefore recommended by the group that more students, as individuals and organisations, organise themselves and participate on campus, starting from the youth led migrant organisation Spark 15 who were consulted for the policy paper. This helps such groups to be better integrated within University.
6) The next steps for the group
Whilst the launch of the policy paper was the conclusion to a series of stakeholder meetings held by the group, the paper spells out the coming actions to be taken by them in the coming year. The group recognises that a good way forward would be to examine the concerns of locals with regards to immigration and the challenges it brings with it. Secondly, the need for the protection of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of irregular migrants in Malta will be promoted by the group who will strive to make students and staff at University aware of the link between integration and human rights. The group also intends to work on eliminating the segregation of students on campus by encouraging the active participation of irregular immigrants on campus.
The group was brought together by a KPS meeting held earlier in the year where it was felt that a focus group should be set up to address the issue. The group is made of the KSU Social Policy Office consisting of Petra Grech and Christian Aquilina and members Naomi Bugre, Emma Grech, Daniel Cassar and Julia Cini.
To access the policy paper, click here.