Mental health support arrives “very late” for migrants, a human rights’ advocate believes, as figures show high numbers of attempted suicide by Somalis and Nigerians.

The highest number of suicide attempts by non-Maltese between 2010 and 2015 were committed by British nationals, which is, however, closely followed by that of Somalis.

According to Police data, 32 British nationals attempted suicide, and another 11 committed suicide. During the same period, there were 26 attempts by Somalis and 17 attempts by Nigerians.

While an accurate population percentage cannot be drawn, it is worth noting that according to Eurostat data, there were 6,600 British residents and only 1,000 Somalis in 2014.

This corresponds to 2011 census figures showing there were 6,650 British citizens and 1,040 Somalis in Malta.

By comparison, the same data shows that while there were around 1,000 Italian nationals – similar to the Somali population – there were two attempted and four committed suicides by Italian nationals.

After years of struggling, many lose all hope that Malta will ever offer them the possibility of a dignified existence

The same police data shows 17 attempts by Nigerians and six attempts by Eritreans. Another two Eritreans committed suicide.

When contacted by this newspaper, Jesuit Refugee Service director Katrine Camilleri expressed concern about what would appear to be a rise in people suffering from mental ill-health.

The degeneration in migrants’ psychological well-being seemed to be caused by a combination of physiological factors, past trauma experiences and current difficulties. Unfortunately even migrants with protection faced “huge challenges” trying to build a life here.

“Most will be unable to be reunited with their families as they only have subsidiary protection. They live from hand to mouth, working long hours for little more than the minimum wage, with little prospect of improvement even in the long term… After years of struggling many lose all hope that Malta will ever offer them the possibility of a dignified existence.”

For those without protection the situation is even worse, and their uncertain legal status makes them even more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.

“What worries us most is that migrants who do face mental health problems usually come to our attention or to that of the medical services when it is already late.

“The lack of support to ensure follow-up care and compliance with medical treatment is also problematic, particularly where individuals lack social or community support. This means many require long-term and even repeated hospitalisation, increasing the risk of relapse and suicide.”

Dr Camilleri called for more effective ways of identifying individuals struggling with mental ill-health and providing them with the care and support they needed.

The issue of migrants’ mental health has over the years been brought up by human rights NGOs who meet refugees on a daily basis. During a peaceful demonstration in January, Eritreans and Ethiopians told this newspaper three migrants had committed suicide in a few months because of desperate living conditions.

For Aditus director Neil Falzon, suicide attempts are but one element indicating a high level of mental distress among migrants.

Although the NGO does not have precise figures, it meets people suffering severe anxiety, depression and related issues on a daily basis.

“We’ve often expressed concern for the quality of life Malta offers most migrants. This includes the notorious detention regime, depriving people of their dignity, and open centres with an extremely basic level of living.”

The NGO has also been highlighting the impact of lack of long-term prospects, the constant limbo status that drains migrants’ energy and strength.

“It is also undeniable that most African migrants are aware that they are not welcome, that they are constantly told to go home and that Malta will never be that home,” Dr Falzon said.

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