A young man who died early on Monday morning following a fall in a Rabat construction site last week, had come to Malta to flee the civil war in Syria in 2015 when he was 17 years old.

Mohammed Kasem Hashem Alkhateeb, 26, died in hospital after life support machines were turned off, relatives said.

He suffered severe head injuries when he fell a height of around one-storey while working on a building being constructed in Triq Alessandro Curmi, Rabat, on Thursday afternoon.

“He was a hardworking young man who always had a smile on his face. We are very saddened by what happened but there is not much we can do. We leave it in the hands of Allah,” said his cousin Hussin Alkhateeb.

Mohammed Kasem Hashem AlkhateebMohammed Kasem Hashem Alkhateeb

He recalled how Alkhateeb had come to Malta by boat as he fled the war in Syria, back in October 2015. He travelled alone but had some cousins in Malta.

His parents remained in Syria and have now been informed about his death.

Syria has been engulfed in a civil conflict since 2011, causing the forced displacement of millions of people. Hundreds of Syrian migrants came to Malta after the war broke out and were granted subsidiary protection, which means they are allowed to stay in Malta for fear they may be harmed if repatriated.

Alkhateeb too had subsidiary protection. He worked in Malta as a plasterer in the construction industry and lived with his Maltese girlfriend in Cospicua. 

Exploited for cheap labour

Another relative, who preferred not to be named, was angered by the lack of health and safety measures in the construction industry – something that mostly impacted vulnerable migrant workers. 

“I do not wish to be named as all my family work in construction and many will not like to hear what I am saying: They (developers) are using a lot of cheap labour. They are not training these workers because they want cheap labour and no one is checking the sites. The reality is that these workers are under a lot of pressure to finish a job as fast as possible or else they do not get paid,” the relative said.

Questions were sent to the contractor of the Rabat site about those claims. 

Mohammed Kasem Hashem Alkhateeb came to Malta in 2015 to flee the war in SyriaMohammed Kasem Hashem Alkhateeb came to Malta in 2015 to flee the war in Syria

The relative's words echoed those of Nationalist MP Graziella Attard Previ who, speaking in parliament, recently said many foreign workers coming from developing countries were being exploited and treated like slaves.

Up until June 2022, employment agency Jobsplus registered over 50,591 third-country nationals working in Malta, with around 14% of those working in the construction industry.

According to a report published last month, 49 construction workers died on-site between 2010 and 2022, but only five of those cases have resulted in court decisions. Fines in those five cases ranged from €11,650 to just €1,000.

Titled ‘Victims of Malta’s Construction Boom’,  the report was published by the Daphne Caruana Caruana Galizia Foundation for the Public Interest Litigation Network, a network of lawyers who offer help to victims of human rights violations or other public interest cases.

Mohammed Kasem Hashem Alkhateeb lived in CospicuaMohammed Kasem Hashem Alkhateeb lived in Cospicua

Not a single architect or civil engineer has had their warrant suspended or revoked over the past 23 years in relation to construction deaths.

And while the number of construction notification forms submitted to the Occupational Health and Safety Authority has increased tenfold since 2011, the number of OHSA officers tasked with assessing those forms and inspecting workplaces has remained more or less the same and currently stands at just 13.

Taleb Zaidan,  president of Syrian Solidarity in Malta, said the community organised health and safety courses for people working in the construction industry.

Alkhateeb’s death happened on the day that a vigil will be held in Valletta in memory of another construction site accident victim, Jean Paul Sofia. Sofia's mother is calling for a public inquiry to prevent further repeats of her son's tragedy.

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