Kusi Dismark was in his hair salon on High Street, Ħamrun, on a Sunday morning, cutting a client’s hair when the police showed up.
He was arrested on the spot and taken to Safi detention centre, leaving a client mid-haircut and the doors to his shop – a business he built from scratch – wide open. And as he was driven away, Kusi saw the salon – Adamfo Pa in Twi, or Best Friend in English – for the last time.
When Kusi arrived in Malta 13 years ago seeking asylum, he did not have a penny to his name. Once released from detention, he applied for a work permit and found employment with a local furniture maker. For years he worked, paid taxes and social security contributions, until he had saved enough to start a hairdressing course at MCAST.
As a person who has been denied asylum, Kusi was allowed to work in Malta and pay his dues but had no access to free education and healthcare. Once he completed his studies, he opened a hair salon in Ħamrun in 2019 and was planning on expanding his business, when on January 21 he was suddenly arrested in his beloved shop and detained at Safi.
Kusi, 37, says he has invested the best part of his life in a place that allowed him “to live, not just survive” – a place he could finally call “home”. Born in Ivory Coast, he moved with his mother to Ghana as a little boy where he worked in agriculture and dreamt of studying to become a hairdresser.
After years of clashes with relatives that made it impossible for him to lead a safe and stable life he left for Europe and landed in Malta, where he says he “found the family he never had in Ivory Coast or Ghana”.
Kusi was speaking to Times of Malta from the Safi detention centre over a landline phone. His mobile phone – the only connection with the world outside the detention centre – has been confiscated. Friends, relatives and any legal councillors can call the detention centre, but most often, the line is busy.
Times of Malta officially asked to visit him on February 2. On February 8, we were told a Detention Services Agency’s welfare officer spoke with Kusi who said he did not know anyone with that name. Times of Malta spoke to Kusi on the phone on February 6.
'I have to start life again at 37'
He said he has spent every waking hour since January 21 with the threat of deportation hanging over his head.
“My hope was Malta. I invested my hope, energy and ambition in a country that called me home.”- Kusi Dismark
“When people used to ask me ‘how are you?’, I’d say ‘I’m great’: apart from the initial detention period, I’ve never had any issues with anyone in Malta. But now I cannot even say ‘I’m fine’. I keep thinking of my shuttered shop. My friends. My family.
“I’m not mentally prepared to return. I will return empty-handed. I will have to start life from scratch again at 37 years of age. There’s only so many times one can try again at life. I cannot believe it. I cannot understand… I’m scared. Terrified,” he said, pausing.
“My hope was Malta. I invested my hope, energy and ambition in a country that called me home.”
According to a detention notification dated January 21, Kusi is being detained as he has been subject to a removal order since June of 2011, and he might be “forcibly removed from the Schengen area within the coming weeks”.
Malta has a right to return people who are rejected protection. However, not all are repatriated. Some countries of origin fail to provide official documentation for those handed a removal order or refuse to recognise the migrants’ claimed nationality.
Kusi’s sudden arrest and detention sent shockwaves among his circle of friends.
A Maltese friend who has done business with Kusi in the past described him as “a gentleman” and “trustworthy, reliable and very respectful”. “All I can say is that he is a very honest man – you know where you stand with him.
“For years, Kusi has contributed to Malta’s economy without expecting anything: he is not entitled to sick or vacation leave, or a pension. He is paying for our pension and is indirectly an asset to Malta. It is silly that we are trying to get rid of him when we need young people like him to bolster the country’s workforce.”
Landlord: 'Why deport Kusi and then import TCNs?'
One of Kusi’s Maltese landlords similarly cannot understand why a person who has lived in Malta and integrated so well within the community, could be sent away against his own will.
“If we need more workers in Malta, we should keep people who, like Kusi, have been here for a long time, rather than ‘import’ other third-country nationals with no connection to the island.”
Kusi, he said, always paid his rent on time and cared for the property like it was his own.
A client of Kusi, also a Maltese national, cannot understand why Kusi is being denied a right to live in Malta after being good enough to be granted a work permit to pay tax.
“Kusi is the kind of person who, rather than ask you to sit in front of the mirror and swivel you around for his comfort, while cutting your hair, would walk around you himself.
“I’ve seen him ask his clients to excuse him while he helped elderly customers walk to the door and out of his shop. If he is repatriated, Malta will lose a very good man.”