“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 dependant 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.
This chain of events is populated by thousands who, for the past years, have chosen to share their lives with us. To be clear, these are people who responded to our invitation to come and work and live in Malta. To be clear, our economy, and all that we have built together, depends on the economic, cultural and social contributions made by migrants. To be clear, some of our most vital industries and services, including, but not limited to tourism and hospitality, gaming, and crucially, the care and health sector, depend on people who chose to migrate to Malta, to share their lives with us. To be clear, migrants are not just cogs in an economic machine. They are mothers, fathers, sons and daughters, brothers, sisters, spouses and partners. They are our class mates and teachers, clients and service providers. They are our colleagues, they are our neighbours, and they are our friends. Through their work and contributions, they have contributed to making Malta a vibrant, exciting and dynamic country that promises to thrive on and respect all forms of diversity. Their hard work has joined our own to fuel an unprecedented economic growth that is intended to benefit all members of Malta’s several communities.
We fully appreciate the gravity of the current situation and the very difficult decisions Government is required to take for the good of the nation. It is this very concern that urges us to underline that any community is as healthy as all of its members. Any public health measure must consider all community members, including migrants and other persons who are vulnerable or marginalised.
Whilst we are doing our utmost to support Government in its effort at reaching out to migrant communities, we strongly urge Government to consider the following measures as part of its short- and long-term planning:
- Respect humanity. Refrain from public discourse that is alarming or threatening
- Protect jobs. Extend effective support to all businesses so as to mitigate the financial impact of the Coronavirus epidemic, such as wage subsidies, quarantine leave/grants;
- Secure legal residence. Automatically extend residence permits of all migrants, irrespective of their employment status;
- Maintain information flow. Seek NGO support to translate and disseminate important information updates;
- Prevent homelessness. Seek measures to secure housing to migrants rendered homeless, particularly those at higher risk of contracting COVID-19;
- Guarantee food security. Explore measures of food distribution to persons who are unable to provide for themselves.
- Fundamental right to health. Guarantee access to healthcare for migrants testing positive for COVID-19 irrespective of their immigration status;
- Do not prejudice future prospects. Refrain from imposing entry bans on migrants made redundant during these months;
- Protect those that cannot protect themselves. Whilst we urge Government to reconsider the detention regime currently being relied upon to detain hundreds of migrants, in the short-term Government should equip the detention centres with sufficient materials to protect all detained persons and persons working in the centres.
This joint statement has been issued on 18th March 2020 by aditus, African Diaspora Platform under Cross Culture International Foundation CCIF, African Media Association Malta, The Critical Institute, Cross Culture International Foundation CCIF, Integra Foundation, Kopin, Malta Emigrants’ Commission, Malta Microfinance Ltd., The People for Change Foundation, SOS Malta, Spark15, UpBeat Music House