Migrants evicted from the former Paloma hostel in Buġibba will have a roof over their heads for at least a few more days, after a court this week suspended the site’s closure.
The building was sealed off by the police and public health officials on Monday following residents’ complaints of excessive litter and a rat infestation.
An early-morning raid on the rundown complex saw dozens of migrant residents marched out into the street and taken into custody. Signs informing the public that the site was out of bounds were also affixed to the building’s entrances.
However, a few hours later most of the residents had returned after providing officials with documentation which proved they were living and working on the island legally.
Lawyer Edward Gatt told Times of Malta that he had applied for a warrant of prohibitory injunction in court shortly after the raid, on behalf of his client who had been collecting rent from the migrants living in the property.
Judge Francesco Depasquale temporarily upheld the application, which argued that the closure was unnecessary and would have rendered the residents homeless. A court sitting will now be held in September to make a final decision on the future of the Buġibba building.
We complained about the flooding, that the place is too dirty, that nothing works and it is dangerous
Meanwhile, the migrant residents will continue to live there.
The complex had once served as the residence of a nearby Russian boarding school, which was shut down in 2016.
Since then, the Russian owners have started a new business selling Maltese passports as part of Malta’s controversial citizenship-for-cash programme. They have also entered into a promise of sale agreement on the Buġibba property with the Drago family.
Dr Gatt said that his client, Christopher Drago, had been renting out the property to migrants “in good faith”, insisting that the poor conditions were the result of tenants not taking care of their apartments.
Migrants living there, however, tell a different story.
“We complained about the place so many times but nothing was done. We complained about the flooding, that the place is too dirty, that nothing works and it is dangerous – but nothing was done,” one resident said.
Migrants living in the building said they knew the conditions were miserable, however it was impossible to find better accommodation.
“Maltese people do not want to rent to us, so we have to take a place like this or sleep on the street,” one resident of the complex said.
This was the second such police raid in as many months. In July, the police evicted African migrants living in converted stables in Marsa.
They were found to be living in squalid conditions, with filthy mattresses, mouldy walls and clothes hanging off nails.
Many ended up sleeping in the street.
Another 50 migrants were evicted from a large house in Qormi in April.