About 70 Sudanese migrants living in Malta turned up at the offices of the UN Refugee Agency yesterday claiming that while Somalis and Eritreans were being resettled in the EU they were being kept here on the island.
The migrants, most of whom enjoy some form of protection, complained that the resettlement process was very slow and many of them had been in Malta for six years.
Farouk Bebekir, 28, said the government seemed to prefer resettling other East Africans because the Sudanese were known to be hard-working, adaptable and could also communicate in Maltese.
“But there is no future here,” he said, pointing out that permanent work was difficult to find and bills were constantly on the rise.
“We have been here for six years and we don’t get any help. Others have gone to Europe to become doctors and we are still here, struggling to pay water and electricity bills.”
He added that refugees who had been resettled to other EU countries could obtain a passport to travel and even bring over their families to live with them and build a future together. But in Malta they could not travel freely and had not seen their family for years.
“If the government wants to keep us here, the conditions must improve. We need to be given help to find good work and job training. We need to get the same benefits Maltese employees receive and we need to be able to travel.”
He added that if they could not be resettled and the situation in Malta did not improve, some would probably prefer to go back to Darfur and die there. “At least we will die in our country with our friends and family not here alone, with nothing.”
A spokesman for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, which is in charge of resettlement, admitted the process took long but he denied there was any discrimination between nationals of different countries.
“Twenty per cent of Sudanese have been resettled,” said the spokesman, Fabrizio Ellul, adding this was not a low figure compared to other nationalities.
He stressed, however, that resettlement was not a right and if countries offered to take migrants from Malta the decision on who to take was theirs.
Countries generally take vulnerable migrants who find it difficult to integrate.
The UNHCR spokesman added that integration programmes needed to be improved for people who had to stay in Malta, at least until they were resettled.
The US Embassy yesterday said 16 refugees from Eritrea, Sudan and Somalia left Malta to begin a new life in the US in the past week.
Some 587 refugees have been resettled in a number of countries since May 2008.
US Ambassador Douglas Kmiec said: “The refugee resettlement programme represents a small contribution by the people of the US to help alleviate the world’s suffering.” He thanked the government, the UNHCR and the International Organisation for Migration as well as the Jesuit Refugee Service and the Emigrants Commission.
“Once they arrive in the US, each refugee will be assigned a sponsor agency that provides initial services such as housing, food and clothing, as well as referral to medical care, employment services and other support during a transition period lasting up to two years in order to ensure integration and assimilation.”