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"Turning The Tables": a migrant-led dialogue in Malta, is de-africanizing migration the solution?

What is the reality behind migration in Malta? What life do migrants live once they reach our shores? What about "de-africanising" the debates around migration to make it acceptable to the Maltese population? Over the past two years, discussions about education, employment, documentation, political rights and detention have been carried out in the framework of The “Turning The Tables” series of conferences.

Regine Nguini Psaila, adressing the audience during the closure conference of the initiative "Turning The Tables"

The “Turning The Tables” conferences have contributed in shedding light on the extremely challenging conditions of migrants in Malta, carrying the hope to make a change.

For this conclusive session, a selected group of experts has been appointed to wrap up the main issues discussed. Director of Aditus Neil Falzon, Tunisian artist Mohammad Ali (Dali) Agrebi, Deborah Bolanle, Nurse and Pastor for African community, Solution Assistant at UNHCR Lauren Borg, and Juan Gambina from JobsPlus Malta.

Moderating the discussion was Livingstone Ngetuny from Spark15.

Turning The Tables? But there is no table!

The discussion started with a statement from Director of Aditus Neil Falzon for which there is actually no table to be turned. He said that a real dialogue requires two or more entities to be willing to engage in purposeful conversation, as well as a proper forum in which the conversation will take place. However, at the present moment migrant-led communities are not sufficiently organised to engage in conversation, while the government lacks the willingness to do so. For him, Falzon the “table” does not exist, unless there is a suitable table for discussion in which both the Maltese government and migrant communities will feel comfortable to confront.

Members of the panels during the closing conference of Turning The Tables. From left to right: Juan Anton Gambina, Deborah Bolanle, Dali Aguerbi, Neil Falzon, Lauren Borg

For Pastor Bolanle, considering the ways in which migrants could actually contribute to the context of the new country they settle in is the way to go. Contributing to the Maltese community and abiding by the law is the only way to break the stereotypes that gravitate around migrants and Africa in general. In this regard, Lauren Borg said that migrants need to be granted some sort of stability in return for their effort to integrate in the new context. Only through building a sense of belonging will migrants be willing to collaborate.

Circling back to the need to create a “table” for discussion, Dali pointed out how the series of conferences itself has been a possible context for discussion, even though it was at times difficult to engage with Maltese authorities. For him, the contexts need to be varied: not only formal ones with conferences, but also informal ones to stimulate the discussion and to possibly attract migrants. This is not to be done only at the level of policy, but it is also a social work that involves migrants directly, connecting communities with each other and breaking down the stereotypes that migrant groups from different nationalities reciprocally hold.

De-africanising the topic of migration in Malta

The real way forward is building a context for discussion that interests and engages all parts. To do so - according to Mr Falzon - there is the need to “de-africanize” the current approach to migration in Malta. This was one of the most crucial points emerging in the discussion: the “africanization” of the migration conversation damages it by fueling misconceptions and stereotypes. What is needed is more networking and collaboration between African and non-African communities of migrants in Malta, to lead the government and the Maltese civil society into the conversation. Only through a process of de-africanization migrants can be regarded and approached as people who migrate, instead of as stereotyped Africans. The key is to find common ground between migrants to voice common needs.

For Dali, the “africanization” of migration originates from the fact that Africans carry the burden of keeping the conversation on migration alive in Malta, because they experience problems related to integration more often than people of different nationalities. There is almost like a hierarchy of integration, said Pastor Bolanle, with whom most panellists agreed, accepting that such differences are not at all a migrants’ fault, and that the empowerment of every migrants-led community need to be put at the forefront to create a favorable new table of discussion on migration in Malta.

“Turning The Tables” was an initiative from The Intercultural and Anti-Racism Unit – part of the Human Rights Directorate of Malta. African Media Association Malta was in charge of organizing a series of conferences on the topics on Education, Employment, Documentation, Political Rights and Detention. The aim was to give voice to migrant communities in order to suggest policy change. Aditus Foundation collaborated on the project as Researcher.


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