Sunday 21 April 2024

Let’s “do something”….by picking on long-time residents

This column first appeared in Malta Today

Every time it receives signals about the electorate’s main concerns, the Labour Government decides to set certain wheels in motion as a sort of gesture, especially to its supporters, to indicate that it is “listening”. The problem is that it is a superficial nod and barely scratches the surface to tackle the root of the problem.

A recent Malta Today survey points out that “concern on foreigners remains higher among Labour (27%) voters than among Nationalist voters (16%)”. The next thing you know, a man who has built a business and a life here for 13 years is arrested and told that he will be deported. On Friday, on the advice of his lawyers, he agreed to return to his home country voluntarily, rather than face deportation. To me it seems like a mise-en-scène – let’s make an example of someone to show our core base that we are “doing something” .

Kusi Dismark’s story is heartbreaking because he tried his best to do things the right way: when he arrived from Ghana, seeking asylum, he had nothing. Even though he was denied asylum, he was released from detention and applied for a work permit and found employment with a local furniture maker. He worked here, paid taxes and social security contributions. When he saved enough money he started a hairdressing course at MCAST and eventually opened his own salon, which became very popular among his clientele in Hamrun.

What many still cannot understand is that a removal order was issued against him in 2011and yet Kusi was working openly and was clearly registered in the system – so how come action is being taken now? One possible reason that has been put forward is that this is due to bureaucratic delays when official documentation proving nationality is not provided by the country of origin. This puts undocumented immigrants in a legal limbo which effectively means that people can be living in a country for many years with the threat of deportation hanging over their heads. But, really, 13 years?

According to the Times report, ”Most people who are denied asylum are allowed to work in Malta and are obliged to pay tax and social contributions but have no access to free education. While working, they have access to healthcare but no social protection. This means that if they are injured, taken ill or can no longer be gainfully employed, they will not receive any social, medical or unemployment benefits. They are similarly not entitled to a pension once they reach retirement age.”

I am still trying to wrap my head around how the state can sanction this type of unjust situation and be perfectly content that a person is contributing to the economy and is quite willing to take their taxes…and then just decide to kick them out overnight.

Kusi’s lawyers issued a statement explaining that, “Despite enduring a stateless status for over twelve years, Kusi will not face a ban thanks to the Ministry of Home Affairs’ intervention, which facilitated his repatriation. This incident highlights the numerous stateless individuals on our island, stressing the need for initiatives aimed at regularising their legal status…We remain committed to supporting him in his journey. Kusi is in good spirit and maintains an optimistic outlook for his future in Malta.”

I have read that similar scenarios are happening to immigrants all over the EU who have slipped through the net and made a life for themselves in a European country, but that still does not absolve Malta from the way it is handling such cases and the underlying motives behind it. It cannot be a coincidence that the rise in hostility and resentment against “foreigners” is leading the Government to respond using a heavy-handed approach which goes some way towards appeasing the angry mob. Far-right rhetoric is growing (again, not just here, but all over Europe) and locally the prospect of increased support for Norman Lowell-style politics is once again rearing its head.

It is clear that the number of undocumented migrants (of which there seem to be many) are an easy target. Moviment Graffitti, which is holding a demonstration today on this issue starting at 3pm from Hamrun, points out that it is not just adults like Kusi who are at risk. They highlight another common example which is even more worrying, “Joseph, born and raised in Malta, like any other Maltese child. He has Maltese friends, was an altar boy for many years with the Balzan Parish and excelled in football. Joseph is stateless. As long-term undocumented migrants in Malta, they are not asking for special treatment; they are simply demanding stability: the recognition of years of hard work, integration efforts, and contribution to Maltese society.”

Is this what we really want? Do we want children and teenagers, who for all intents and purposes consider themselves Maltese because they have lived here all their lives, to be refused any form of legal recognition by the state? As for the adults, why even allow those who have been denied asylum to set up businesses here and dupe them into thinking they have a stable future, only to snatch it all away from them? It just seems unnecessarily cruel.

I do not think that going after people who have integrated so well here is the way to go about “fixing” the preoccupation with “too many foreigners”. Why doesn’t this administration do something about companies which have changed their line of business and branched out into becoming employment agencies with ties in the Philippines and Dubai in order to “facilitate” the engagement of Third Country Nationals? This is where the authorities should shift their attention to stem the flow of more and more jobseekers coming in with promises of employment which often turn out to be bogus (although both the agency and Identity Malta would have pocketed their fees).

The TCNs constantly looking for jobs on FB means that they are now no longer filling legitimate, existent vacancies, but being brought into the country and then left to fend for themselves. But of course, small business owners like Kusi are small fry, whereas the big guns are, as always, untouchable. The reason is obvious; this is how “the economic wheel keeps turning” because everywhere, at every stage, someone is making money….the agencies, the authorities (work permit, residence card and now the skills card all cost money), landlords and of course, the employers who only offer minimum wage, thus increasing their profit margins while undercutting the competition.

What is even more galling is that while someone like Kusi is unfairly treated like a criminal, the actual hardened criminals are finding their way into Malta where seemingly “anything goes’. It’s clearly easier to pick on a law-abiding resident who has integrated so well, rather than going after those who are a real threat to society and national safety and who have committed some of the country’s most recent heinous crimes.

When questioned about Kusi Dismark’s case, the Prime Minister said that if Malta does not repatriate migrants who are not eligible for asylum, the country would open its doors to irregular immigration, noting that Malta’s size, “doesn’t permit this.” When pressed about the fact that Kusi’s removal order dated back to 2011, Abela responded that his deportation should have happened long ago. Despite this, he assured the media that the authorities were not sitting idly by.

I’m curious about the PM’s replies: has he perhaps been in a deep slumber and only just woken up to Malta’s small size now? And how will removing people like Kusi solve the over-population problem when we all know that the real issue is the mass importation of cheap labour which has exploded exponentially since the pandemic? Malta Today recently reported that “Malta’s growing cohort of foreign workers from outside the EU has formally registered Indian nationals as the largest non-Maltese community on the islands. Outstripping Italians as the largest non-Maltese community of workers, Indian nationals now total over 13,000 according to parliamentary data for July 2023.”

Contrary to the PM’s statement, not only are the authorities sitting idly by, but they are actively encouraging this state of affairs by permitting more supermarkets, more construction, more shopping malls, more of everything, which requires a larger workforce. But I guess forcing a hapless self-employed African man to leave the country looks good for the cameras and doesn’t rock the economic boat too much does it? God forbid we close our doors to the desperate workers from south east Asia and shut the tap of lucrative income on which so many big names depend.