[lg policy] Malta: Government plans culture, language lessons for migrants

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Sat Oct 7 15:59:43 EDT 2017

Government plans culture, language lessons for migrantsNew unit to be set up
[image: Silvan Agius and Katya Unah. Photo: Mark Zammit Cordina]

Silvan Agius and Katya Unah. Photo: Mark Zammit Cordina

An integration unit will offer courses to migrants in the Maltese and
English languages and in local culture under a new policy to be presented
to Cabinet by the end of the year.

The unit will accept ‘integration requests’ from migrants and facilitate
their interaction with State authorities. Hosted by the Human Rights and
Integration Directorate, the unit’s officers will follow the migrants’
progress towards integration.

The courses will make participants eligible to a ‘pre-integration’
certificate and this would facilitate their request for long-term residency
once other criteria, such as the length of stay in the country, are met.

The policy – the Migrant Integration Strategy – is being drafted by the
directorate led by Silvan Agius. It was first promised several years ago
and Social Dialogue Minister Helena Dalli told Parliament in 2014 that the
government was committed to producing it the following year.

Earlier this year, the EU singled out Malta and four other countries for
having no integration action plan for non-Europeans. However, the Civil
Liberties Ministry had pledged the national strategy should be published
this year. It has also been promised in the pre-budget document.

Mr Agius told The Sunday Times of Malta in an interview that the strategy
would be presented to Cabinet in the coming months. Drafted following
consultation with stakeholders, including NGOs, local councils and
government entities such as Identity Malta, it will lay down an action plan
to be implemented by the end of 2020.

Why has it taken so long?

Mr Agius said it boiled down to a lack of human resources. The directorate
was set up in November of 2015 and before that, all political discussion
about integration was conducted on a ministerial and secretariat level.
The service will not become mainstream overnight

Last February, the directorate brought in Alex Tortell, former head of the
Agency for the Welfare of Asylum Seekers, to help draft an “implementable
action plan”.

Asked why the integration process will not be compulsory, Mr Agius noted
that when a person requested help to integrate, he or she was doing so
willingly so there was a higher chance of the process being a smooth and
positive one.

“We need to start from somewhere and the service will not become mainstream
overnight. The directorate will start off by integrating as many people
[who file the request] as possible, and then eventually mainstream the
service to keep up with the demand,” he explained. The service will be
provided to EU citizens and not just third-country nationals.

The directorate’s main concerns include the prevention of discrimination,
segregation and ghettoisation, and the facilitation of access to services
for migrants.

For assistant director Katya Unah, raising awareness about the need to
embrace different cultures needs to start from the early school years.

In Malta, some were still taken aback if a relative or friend married
someone from a ‘rival’ town or a village at the other end of the island,
let alone if they married someone from another culture, she said.

Embracing different cultures was challenging and there were already
entities, such as the St Paul’s Bay primary school and the Education
Department, that were doing their bit. The latter has its own migrant
learner unit where children are taught Maltese and English so that they can
integrate better at school, Ms Unah added.

Her colleague Mr Agius noted that some Maltese had shifted from
stereotyping between the north and the south of Malta to making a
distinction between Maltese and foreigners.

“Our job is to change that narrative, showing that everybody belongs,” he
said. The strategy, which would be adopted by all entities, would lay down
that racial profiling and indirect or direct discrimination should not take

Asked about ghettoisation within the context of recent events, including
plans to move migrants at the Marsa open centre to Ħal Far, which have been
halted, Mr Agius said some pull factors would always be there. These
included settling down close to one’s job or to accessible transport.

However, it needed to be ensured it was not poverty that was attracting
people to some parts of the island, being more affordable.

“This is not an issue of shifting people around – if Marsa is closed and
people are temporarily relocated to Ħal Far, we need a long-term plan. I’m
not convinced that the original aim of the Marsa open centre to integrate
migrants within society has been fully accomplished.”

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