After years in limbo, living hand to mouth and not knowing whether you will be deported overnight, you are admitted to Mount Carmel Hospital.

While hospitalised, your work and residence permits expire, rent prices spike and you lose your job as you have no sick leave or employment rights, despite paying social security.

No friend or relative greets you when you are discharged, and you are now homeless, unemployed and without valid residence documents.

“You’ve become invisible. You self-medicate through illicit drugs and this lands you in prison. Most probably, you’ll be hospitalised again. It is a revolving door: prison, hospital, outdoors, prison, hospital…” says Ahmed Bugre, director of the Foundation for Shelter and Support to Migrants (FSM).

“A rehabilitation place could stop this revolving door. A roof over your head for a few months could provide you with some breathing space so that you can focus on getting your work and residence permits sorted, and get back on your feet.”

This rehabilitation centre for migrants was set to become a reality through EU funds. But unfortunately FSM neither had the capital nor the support of the authorities to come up with the remaining co-funding.

Dr Bugre noted that the setting up of this rehabilitation centre, devised specifically for migrants who were discharged from a mental health institution, had been given the green light at EU level.

The NGO would have been awarded €500,000 in EU funding, however this could only be secured if FSM came up with a €146,000 capital.

Dr Bugre added that the need for such a space was increasing exponentially: According to mental health data, migrants made up 25 per cent of acute involuntary admissions to Mount Carmel Hospital in 2017 – up from 18 per cent in 2016.

Such a place would be a win-win situation for all: if a person was not mentally well, they could not learn the language or integrate, he insisted.

The FSM director highlighted several issues that weigh down on migrants’ mental well-being – from lack of stability about their residency and any hope of ever being accepted as a citizen to having no right to reunification with their immediate relatives, including spouses and children.

Migrants made up 25 per cent of acute involuntary admissions to Mount Carmel Hospital in 2017

Some cannot go back to their home country as they would lose their protection, others who are not afforded asylum in Malta cannot be deported as their home country does not recognise them as its own nationals.

These have to apply for a work permit in Malta every six months, however, they usually receive the paperwork three months late, meaning that they either cannot work during those three months or do so precariously.

Spikes in accommodation prices have driven people out on the streets, and as they become increasingly desperate, prison is the only way some migrants get a roof over their head.

But their situation actually gets worse once they are released from prison as they lose their clean police conduct and any social networks they had. Some fall into depression and are hospitalised.

“It’s a continuous cycle that we are seeing too often. Mental health issues have become a huge problem among migrant communities.

“This is also due to the fact that because of lack of awareness about mental well-being among migrant communities, we only get to know about their issues once it is too late, and they are admitted for acute care,” Dr Bugre added.

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