A Bangladeshi businessman who has lived in Malta for the past 15 years is considering leaving the country for good after being repeatedly turned away by prospective landlords because of his religion and nationality.
Kawsar Amin Howlader described the hurdles he has been dealing with in recent months as he continues searching for a property for him and his wife.
Despite living in the country for 15 years and eligible for Maltese citizenship next year, Howlader said he keeps being turned away because he is “a Muslim man and a third country national”.
The owner of popular St Julian’s Indian restaurant Suruchi, Howlader, who now speaks fluent Maltese, said he is looking for an apartment to rent with his wife who is moving to Malta soon. But so far, his search has been unsuccessful as property owners turn him away once they find out he is Muslim and originally from Bangladesh.
“I understand that landlords might need to ask what I do and my nationality, but why religion? After living here for 17 years, investing money, trying to buy a house... it breaks my heart... I am not angry, I am sad,” he told Times of Malta.
“I am not Maltese by passport, but by heart I am. I want to be honest – we are talking about leaving, if possible, immediately.
“But I do need some time to settle my business affairs,” Howlader said, adding he has discussed the issue with expat friends who are also thinking of leaving Malta for good because of the unfair treatment they constantly face.
'Sorry. Not interested. You’re Muslim'
Howlader contacted Times of Malta after his recent experience trying to rent a two-bedroomed apartment and after the owner blatantly turned him away because of his religion – explicitly telling him so via Facebook messages.
“Sorry. Not interested. You’re Muslim,” the messages read.
Howlader, who also runs an association for the Bangladeshi community, says this has been the response in 95 per cent of the cases, with landlords always pointing to either his nationality or religion as the reason for refusing to rent out their place to him.
In one case, he said, a landlady agreed to rent out her apartment to him, even taking a deposit of €1,200. But upon meeting him in person, she immediately changed her mind. When Howlader confronted her about it, she said she had only agreed because she assumed he was a local since they had only communicated in Maltese.
“Of course, I speak Maltese!” he said, switching to the language to prove his point.
“I made an effort to learn the language, the culture, customs, everything. I love this country. Most of my friends, who are like family, are Maltese,” he said.
But the authorities need to urgently step up and address the abuse taking place, he was quick to add, saying there is currently no enforcement in place and landlords are still free to discriminate against anyone they do not like.
As a business owner, Howlader said he never discriminates against anyone and so he finds it even more incomprehensible that he has to deal with such an issue daily.
“I once even organised a clean-up outside the Msida church. I didn’t even think about the fact this is a Christian church, why should I? I simply called up the mayor and offered my help. I financed the whole thing because when you are part of a community, that is what you do,” he said.
Discrimination acts are illegal
According to the National Commission for the Promotion of Equality (NCPE), such acts of discrimination are illegal.
Through Legal Notice 85 of 2007, Maltese law was brought in line with the Race Equality Directive 2000/43/EC.
The legal notice sets out the illegality of discrimination based on race and ethnic origin in relation to goods and services and their supply.
This means it is against the law to discriminate against any person in the supply of goods and services available to the public.
This includes access to and supply of housing. Those found to be in infringement of such law may face a fine, imprisonment or both. Those who are being discriminated against also have a right to ask for compensation.