Two immigrant Eritreans have claimed that a bus driver at the Valletta terminus did not let them ride his vehicle because of their skin colour.

While the Malta Transport Authority said it would be questioning the bus driver about the alleged incident this morning, immigrants at the Marsa centre say that such occurrences are not uncommon.

The two men had been shopping at the open-air market in Valletta last Sunday and planned to return to the Marsa open centre on the No. 3 bus.

But, as soon as Aman Hiyabu Drar, 30, and Yonas Maosho 35, set foot on the bus at 11.20 a.m., the driver ordered them off, immediately shutting the door behind them, they said. There were just four other passengers on the bus and plenty of space available.

They then approached a transport inspector who agreed to speak to the bus driver, but they still got nowhere. The inspector reportedly told them that the driver always refused to take black people on his bus and that he was angry at illegal immigrants.

The Eritreans went to report the matter to the Valletta police but were told to refer it to the Public Transport Authority.

Mr Drar said it was the second time he has been refused entry to a bus in the 18 months he has been in here. "I can only say that this mentality is sick. I can't change my skin colour. I don't condemn all the Maltese people for such behaviour, but I'm afraid the majority are like that," he said.

A visit to the Marsa centre yesterday revealed that such incidents are not rare. Bus drivers sometimes instruct immigrants to wait for the next bus, it was alleged.

The immigrants file around three such reports every week to the Marsa centre administration, which has now instructed them to forward their complaints to the police.

One individual even recounted the story of a black French voluntary worker who was prevented from boarding.

"It's normal for other passengers to change their seats once immigrants sit next to them; while others pass snide remarks," said one Somali refugee, who preferred to remain anonymous.

"In Africa when someone's doing something wrong, people will revolt and say something. In Malta, it seems people are willing to just sit there and accept it."

Victor Spiteri, president of the Malta Transport Association, was not aware of the incident, but promised to act.

"Once you give me the driver's details I will forward them to our disciplinary board. I also want to see why the inspector didn't rectify the matter," an incensed Mr Spiteri said.

He said the association had no qualms about introducing an early morning service to Hal-Far, which caters mostly for immigrants.

The association, he added, could not accept the complaints of several Birzebbuga residents who claimed they could not get a place on the buses because there were too many immigrants. "These people are also clients of ours," he said.

Questions were also sent to the police about the case.

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