Migrants who have been targeted by police and pulled out of their homes are being ‘racially profiled’ and this amounts to them being ‘criminalised’, Maria Pisani from the Integra Foundation has said.
Speaking to The Malta Independent on Sunday, Pisani said that every week new reports on migrant evictions emerge, with those evicted released only to discover that they have nowhere to go.
This comes in the wake of yet another raid on property in Buġibba housing over 150 migrants, who were subsequently evicted from their apartment blocks.
Police officers were seen checking immigration documents and asking the tenants for their residence permits. Many were taken away in police buses. In this case, the migrants were allowed back into the building later on in the day. In other raids, however, the migrants were not allowed back in their homes due to unsanitary conditions.
According to sources, the migrants were taken the police headquarters to have their documents checked. Although they were released, their documents were withheld.
During the raid, a resident asked: “Why are we being treated like this? I have all of my documents and permits, but the police come in and kick down my door while I am sleeping, but they do not question the landlord who takes our money.”
Tenants living in the three interconnected blocks were paying between €200 and €300 a fortnight, with each room housing between four and seven people.
“Nobody is holding the landlords to account or, worse still, some have the audacity to play the victim, and/or resort to a familiar racist trope to justify the abhorrent conditions that they themselves are responsible for,” Pisani told this newsroom.
Referring to research she conducted on behalf of the NCPE back in 2012, Pisani noted that even then, when Malta was not facing the housing crisis it is facing today, research clearly showed that “while the categories may vary with regard to how they are labelled, ‘black’, African, ‘Arab’ and ‘Muslim’… these groups face disproportionate levels of discrimination in accessing housing. This is particularly the case with regard to males.”
Seven years later, Pisani says Malta has witnessed several changes that have led to the present housing crisis. She believes the focus of the issue should be on the many people in Malta facing difficulty in accessing safe and dignified housing.
This, she pointed out, does not mean ignoring the blatant racism that some migrants face in Malta.
Housing prices have risen significantly over the past few years, and this is directly related to the economic model successive governments have pursued, Pisani explained. The country’s recent economic growth has not occurred in a vacuum, but depends on a significant migrant labour force and investment migration.
“This, in turn, has resulted in soaring rental prices – prices that for the majority of us are completely unaffordable. This point is not up for debate. It is a fact,” Pisani said, adding that the present housing crisis is not a “migrant” or “black” problem.
She believes that the average person in Malta, regardless of nationality or ethnicity, is being priced out of the rental market.
The economic model is increasing the vulnerability of all people on lower incomes, Pisani explained. Research and day-to-day practice have shown that single-parent households, usually women, persons with a disability, persons experiencing mental health problems, older and younger people, and ethnic minorities are all more likely to face barriers and discrimination in accessing affordable housing.
These people are also facing problems in employment, thus creating a vicious cycle of poverty, Pisani said. People, Maltese and migrants alike, are suffering, and the shelters and NGOs providing services are not coping.
“It is very clear, however, where lower-income, migration and race intersect, some migrants – specifically those generally categorised as ‘black/Arab’ – face almost insurmountable barriers to access affordable housing and are then punished for living in unsanitary, unsafe conditions that, given the choice, no human being would choose to live in,” Pisani said.
Racism in accessing housing is rife, she noted, but the shortage of affordable housing is symptomatic of an issue that extends beyond racism. The wealth is not trickling down, not everyone is benefiting from the celebrated economic boom, and the cracks are there for all to see. Malta is facing a housing crisis, she warned.