Launch event of book 'Our Island: Personal Accounts of Protecting Refugees in Malta
The impact of migration on Malta through the personal accounts and shared memories of those living it are the core of a book published by the human rights NGO Aditus. The launch which happened on the 8th June included addresses by MEPs Miriam DALLI and Roberta METSOLA and was supported by the European Parliament Liaison Office in Malta.
Introduction to the book by Neil Falzon, Director of aditus foundation and a human rights lawyer.
In the years between 2002 and 2016 Malta received over 21,000 asylum applications, with a yearly average of around 1,625 new applications. Over 80% of these applicants reached Malta by boat, having left north Africa – usually Libya – after arduous journeys taking them through African countries and the Sahara Desert. In the early years, most applicants were Somalis fleeing the on-going war ravaging the country, followed by Eritreans seeking refuge from a brutal regime.
More recently, due to the escalation of violence in Libya and Syria, Malta has provided refuge to relatively large numbers of refugees from these two war-torn countries. Throughout, the requests for protection from these larger communities were accompanied by similar requests from persons hailing from over 30 countries, mainly African but not only. Overall, Malta’s rate of offering international protection exceeds 60% either in the form of refugee status or of subsidiary protection. National protection, in various forms, has also been granted to over 1,000 persons.Our Island: Personal Accounts of Protecting Refugees in Malta explains this data by presenting the professional, and often deeply personal, experiences of those people who interacted with the various elements triggered by the numbers. A cursory glance at the data immediately flags the most obvious of these elements. When equipped with a slightly more analytical perspective, the reader is made aware of an array of themes, questions and challenges that Malta experienced throughout those years.
The accounts we are presenting in Our Island offer most of these in-depth perspectives, hoping to cover as broad a range of themes as possible in a single publication. Understanding the context is fundamental. A new European Union Member State (Malta joined the EU in 2004), Malta was a relatively homogeneous society, had a strong and stable economy and ranked first in the EU in terms of population density. Its asylum legislation and relevant institutions were in their infancy. Until then, Malta was not responsible for refugees coming here, these being processed and resettled by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. There was no formal system to receive and support refugees, and no evident intentions to establish one either. It is not surprising that when the first boats arrived, packed with ravaged bodies and
minds, the island was wholly unprepared.
What followed were extremely busy and stressful years for the nation, as it was exposed to harsh realities, previously undreamt about, of people living in faraway countries that most in Malta had never even heard of. Not only was the exposure a sudden one, but it brought with it the expectation to live up to legal and moral obligations that might have been familiar to the nation’s Roman Catholic ethos, but uncomfortable in the way it pushed basic notions of equality and dignity to the top of Malta’s political but also social agenda. Where we stand today in relation to these same basic notions and how we understand them in the context of refugees and other migrants, is far from our starting point, yet also far from a situation that fully embraces the refugee as a friend, a neighbour, a welcome guest.
Our Island spans these years by giving a voice to those figures who were present at key moments of Malta’s interaction with refugees. Our intention in compiling these contributions, and in the way they are presented, is to first and foremost document what we feel are crucial moments in Malta’s contemporary history. These were not merely years of refugees arriving and a nation responding, but years packed with myriad intricate stories of political debate, social awakenings and interactions, and countless glorious and tragic moments, most at least hinted at in this book. Since the first boat arrival, Malta has to face several of its fears, revisit its understanding of its own identity, and make space – physical and also psychological – for several new communities. We feel that this process needs to be recorded for present and future