Last week I was going through the news and reading about the current COVID-19 pandemic. I came across a Times Of Malta article ‘Migrants ‘more vulnerable’ to COVID-19 impact’. In this article the Director of Integra, Maria Pisani,
Imagine losing everything on your way to Europe and suddenly facing a new crisis in your new home: you’ve just lost your job, have no internet to stay updated about the novel corona-virus and no friends or family to support you with food or medicine. This is the situation in which some migrants have suddenly found themselves.Dr. Maria Pisani, Integra Foundation
After reading this article I decided to sit down with our Legal Officer, Claire Delom, a French human rights lawyer with expertise in refugee law. I also spoke with Sarah Giusti, Social Worker at The Jesuit Refugee Service: “JRS in Malta seeks to accompany, serve and defend the rights of asylum seekers and forcibly displaced persons who arrive in Malta”.
I interviewed them regarding the current situation affecting local migrants and refugees.
We are extremely concerned at
the increased number of alerts we are receiving from persons who do not have
sufficient food for themselves and their families and who are about to be
evicted because they are unable to pay rent. Many were at risk of poverty
before the COVID-19 outbreak, but now the number of people requiring urgent and
immediate assistance is increasing exponentially.
As people lose their jobs or have their wages cut, their ability to meet the most basic needs and those of their family members is being jeopardised. For some, these risks will be mitigated by Government’s support packages or by relying on support provided by social services, the community, family, friends, NGOs or the Church. Yet there are thousands of people who will not be able to receive this life-saving aid. They might not be aware of it or they could not be eligible for it. More worrying, it is becoming increasingly clear that there simply is not enough available aid to support Malta’s most vulnerable persons. We also note last week’s statement by 20 Church entities, expressing similar concerns.
I am young, hence the Coronavirus isn’t too dangerous for me…I am not too worried. I will still go out, but will be cautious not to touch contaminated places to minimise exposure. Staying in all this time bores me!
Why is staying at home an effective way to stop the spread of COVID-19?
It is a fact that if one is young and healthy, chances of death from this virus are low. However, let’s imagine the following scenario. You get sick and the estimate is that you will spread it to approximately three other people before symptoms manifest. The other three healthy people who were infected by you will each spread it to another three. The spread will continue until you manifest symptoms, quarantine yourself and stay at home. Throughout this initial period you may not feel anything but remember, you are still carrying it. You may spread it to vulnerable people and this could result in their death.
“COVID-19 is a test for our societies, and we are all learning and adapting as we respond to the virus. Human dignity and rights need to be front and centre in that effort, not an afterthought.”Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
It is appalling to hear Government talk of non-Maltese nationals without acknowledging their humanity and – in many cases – their vulnerability. Recent statements by the Economy Minister are, at best, extremely naive and, at worst, reveal a sheer lack of compassion and humanity. Thousands of non-Maltese men, women and children cannot be abandoned to a situation of absolute precarity. Their health and livelihood must be safeguarded in order to respect their dignity and also to prevent any threats to public health. When the nation is facing such challenging times, words of support and encouragement are far more productive than careless talk of unemployment and deportations. Under all circumstances our humanity and decency must prevail.
Over the past weeks it has become clear that the Coronavirus epidemic is going to have a severe economic impact resulting in large numbers of non-Maltese nationals losing their jobs almost overnight. If unmitigated, this large-scale and sudden unemployment will trigger a worrying chain of events that has the potential of ruining the lives of thousands of people. With migrants’ residence in Malta dependent on them holding a work permit, the immediate consequence of their job loss would be the withdrawal of their right to remain in Malta.
Migrants who until a few days ago were working, paying taxes and social security contributions, renting homes, attending classes and making Malta home will suddenly become “prohibited persons” under Malta’s immigration laws. As bluntly highlighted by the Economy Minister, this will mean one thing: returns to home countries and, possibly, detention and deportation.