Syrian workers have experienced unjustified prejudice by employers who refuse to work with them out of fear they may “cause trouble”, according to the president of the community in Malta.
“Whenever a Syrian person is charged in court, some media splash the label ‘Syrian’ in the headline. That word causes a lot of problems for our community even though the person is innocent until proven guilty. We had cases of employers telling Syrian workers not to return to work as they did not want any trouble.
“But, just because one Syrian did something wrong, it does not make us all bad. This applies to the Maltese: if a Maltese person does something wrong, this does not make all Maltese people bad,” said Taleb Zaidan who stressed that the majority of Maltese people have been very welcoming.
Zaidan, who is also the president of Syrian Solidarity in Malta, said that since the war broke out in Syria the number of Syrians in Malta increased from a few hundred to about 6,500.
Syria has been engulfed in a civil conflict since 2011, generating the forced displacement of millions of people, the majority of who remain in neighbouring countries.
The war also forced Zaidan to leave. He came to Malta eight years ago and moved in with a cousin who had been living here before the war. Like so many other Syrians, he left his life behind. He was studying engineering in Syria and his family was well off as they owned a successful bakery.
When he came to Malta, he initially worked in construction before, eventually, starting his business. Since then, he also got married, to a Syrian woman, and has three children.
Zaidan helped set up Syrian Solidarity on the island, an NGO that supports Syrians with paperwork, among other things.
As the Syrian community in Malta increased, over the years some Syrians made the headlines for good and bad reasons. In a recent case, earlier this year, a Syrian man was charged with stabbing his co-national, Fawaz Najem, 25, to death during a confrontation in an apartment in Marsalforn. It was rumoured that the case was the result of a fight between two opposing factions.
Zaidan denied that this was the case in Malta.
“Yes, in Syria there are different conflicting groups. But this is not the case in Malta,” he said.
After a decade of conflict, Syria has become the world’s worst refugee crisis. Yet, Zaidan says, the majority of Syrians in Malta are being denied refugee status and, instead, given subsidiary protection.
Both refugee status and subsidiary protection are forms of international protection granted to asylum seekers. The major difference between the two is that when a person has subsidiary protection he or she will not be able to reunite with family members.
Zaidan said that, over the years, many Syrians have integrated into Maltese society. Yet, many miss their home country and would return, given the opportunity.
Until then, they are thankful for the Maltese hospitality even though – like people of other nationalities – they too were often told “go back to your country”.
“We are told to ‘go back to your country’ when we do good or bad,” he said as he recalled a recent case when he was told to return to Syria because he asked a Maltese person not to throw chicken scraps on the ground. “The man told me: ‘Go clean your country’,” said Zaidan.
If only he could.