Migrants evicted from open centres, and unable to afford housing, have been forced to sleep at the gates of Valletta.
Asylum seekers are usually allowed accommodation at the open centres for up to a year. in line with a service agreement with the Agency for the Welfare of Asylum Seekers (AWAS).
During that period, they are meant to secure an independent means of living and find their own place to stay.
Their stay at the centres, of which there are two in Ħal Far and one in Marsa, is sometimes extended if they have not yet managed to settle down in the community.
However, with the number of migrant arrivals on the increase, space at the centres is running out, Neil Falzon from the human rights NGO Aditus told Times of Malta.
Residents at open centres must make way for asylum seekers moved there from detention. The process, in turn, makes space for new arrivals in detention centres.
The luckier of the evicted migrants have managed to sleep and eat at friends’ places. However, over the past few days, several have been spotted in Valletta, carrying all their belongings in a single bag.
Some were criticised on social media for sleeping in the street but other social media users have expressed concern that these people had nowhere to sleep.
Aditus is calling for more living space for migrants who are still trying to settle down, especially vulnerable ones like the elderly and those with mental or physical disabilities.
The NGO is also calling for government schemes, especially housing initiatives, that would encourage migrants to leave the open centres.
As things stand, only a limited number of asylum seekers, mainly those with refugee status and subsidiary protection, benefit from rent subsidy.
Falzon said the NGO understood that this was a difficult situation for AWAS, but homeless-ness was not the solution.
“Some stay long in open centres not out of choice, but simply because they cannot leave. People are desperate to move out: several have a job, but it either does not pay enough to cover rent or does not come with a long-term job guarantee.
“Landlords are not willing to sign a rent contract with people in precarious employment. Others are unable to find a place as some landlords refuse to rent to black or Muslim people.”
A member of the Eritrean migrant community, who is in touch with evicted residents, said some have not even had their protection application decided upon, while others are waiting to be relocated to another country.
He added that there was fear among open centre residents that if they left the place they would not be allowed back in and would end up homeless.
Those who have called the entrance to Valletta their home for the past few nights have put up a white sheet that reads: “We are expelled from immigration centre and we have no housing. This is our problem.”
The sign is what caught the attention of cyclist Joseph Farrugia, who was commuting through the capital on Monday just before 11pm.
He stopped by to speak to some of them, who seemed surprised that anyone, other than an African person or police officer, would “acknowledge their presence, let alone talk, listen to or joke with them”.
“A little bit of compassion goes a long way,” said Farrugia, who returned on Tuesday and also on Wednesday with some water for them.
Some do not even know how to go about finding work, he noted.