The government is being urged to open civil service vacancies to refugees and allow them to vote and contest national elections, following an investigation into asylum seekers’ battle against poverty.
According to research findings being published by the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) and Aditus Foundation on Wednesday, a steep rise in the cost of living, rent prices and stagnant wages are the main contributors to poverty among asylum seekers.
While those interviewed acknowledged these challenges were also faced by Maltese residents, other challenges such as poor language skills, lack of Malta’s recognition of qualifications obtained in their home country, racial discrimination and limited access to financial services such as a basic bank account make it even harder for asylum seekers to break the poverty cycle.
The research includes the publication of detailed accounts of people who are struggling to make ends meet.
'I'm not living, I'm surviving'
“If I were to sum up my situation in Malta in a few words, it would be this... at the moment I’m not living, I’m just surviving,” one father-of-two who fled Eritrea said.
The qualified midwife has been unable to secure a stable home for his family as his qualifications have not been recognised.
An English language exam stands between him and a nursing course, however, he can’t afford tuition while working as a carer to cover the €600 monthly rent for one room for his family of four.
His wife has had to halt her studies – which would help her gain employment – so that she can care for their two children.
Despite paying tax, the family is not entitled to any accommodation or most security benefits. As the children grow older, the expenses increase and the situation becomes more desperate.
'We are trying to rebuild our lives'
“I’ve had moments where everything seemed to be going wrong. I’ve felt so frustrated, so scared, so low,” he said.
“Sometimes, it feels as though I’m only living to pay these expenses – to pay to help someone else get rich.
“I believe a lot of people in Malta distance themselves from our backgrounds, our stories and the hardships so many of us have endured in our home countries. They don’t realise how hard we are trying to rebuild our lives.
“We want to give back to the community, not just take from it. If given the chance, we have a lot to offer.”
In summing up the investigation, the authors draw three recommendations, urging the government, among others, to revise regulations on access to public positions that prevent refugees from ever holding such posts.
It is untenable, they argued, that the government encourages the employment of asylum seekers in the private sector but excludes qualified and competent refugees from public employment.
Opening civil service vacancies to refugees would send a nationwide message, the authors believe, encouraging other sectors to follow suit.
Additionally, after more than 20 years of hosting refugees, it was time for the government “to fully embrace their integration by elevating their position in Maltese society from objects of political discourse to subjects of political activity”.
Refugees deserved to participate in formulating decisions affecting their lives, they said, and their political inclusion would also facilitate the adoption of policies targeting refugees.
“We believe refugees should be given the right to vote and stand at national elections, constituting a core step towards their true belonging.”
Meanwhile, they warn the government that the nation needs to take very seriously the threat posed by racist sentiment. National efforts to tackle racism have been “weak, invisible and half-hearted”.
The interviews confirm that challenges faced by refugees to secure a job, fair working conditions and promotions were often based on the underlying sentiment that refugees are undeserving of humane and just treatment, they added.
The research is authored by Julian Caruana and Alexia Ross and is financed by the Malta Community Chest Fund Foundation.
The findings are being published on Wednesday during a discussion at the University of Malta’s Valletta Campus, which will include the participation of Richmond Malta and YMCA.