Give refugees access to education rather than social benefits because that is what will help migrants and the country hosting them in the long-term, a group of young migrants are urging.

Sari Albaaga and Mohamed Hassan are two of the 15 refugees in Malta who set up a new organisation for young migrants, the first of the sort for the island and, probably, Europe.

Spark15, as the new group is called, is run by refugees of different nationalities, including Brazilian, Tunisian and Palestinian, who are calling on other refugees to join the team.

“There are 15 of us so far and we have a spark we hope will set fire to the change we want to inspire.

“Spark15 aims to help refugee and migrant youth attain full integration within the local communities by helping them to be active participants,” Mr Albaaga, 24, from Libya, told this newspaper.

It was not hope that helped me move on but faith in humanity

The founders of Spark15 know what it means to be a refugee because not only have they had to flee their home country but they have also worked with refugees as volunteers with local NGOs.

The biggest challenges for young refugees remain integration, xenophobia and racism.

For Mr Hassan, 23, from Eritrea, whose friends are mostly Maltese, racism is a generational issue that will take some time but is not impossible to overcome.

His peer, Mr Albaaga, also has faith in humanity: “When people meet others with different backgrounds they realise we all form part of humankind.”

When he first arrived in Malta, Mr Albaaga said older people used to stare at him, unless they thought he was Maltese. However, he did not let this get him down and instead he focused his energy on integrating.

“It was not hope that helped me move on but faith in humanity,” he admitted.

Despite the two young men’s approach to racism, they know their female friends, especially those wearing the hijab, are still victims of xenophobia.

Spark15 would hopefully empower women to take a stand and open up about their troubles, particularly those who bottled it up when they found themselves in an unfamiliar environment with an unfamiliar culture.

Education and awareness – both for the refugees themselves and local residents – was the answer for better integration. Education was one of the main challenges, Mr Albaaga said, noting he had been trying to enrol within a post-secondary degree for some time.

“Access to education doesn’t just empower migrants but it also benefits the country because it eases integration while, economically, refugees would be able to pay back through taxes.

“That is why I call on the authorities to give us education rather than the pain killers or social benefits. Like pain killers, social benefits help in the short-term but education helps in the long-term.”

Spark15 is in touch with the authorities and the government to help them understand better young refugees’ challenges and discuss how best to tackle them.

“We are willing and able to integrate and all we need is to be welcomed. We are aware of what’s going on around us and the most important thing is that we can help,” Mr Hassan said.

For more information, visit the Spark15 Facebook page.

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