“Even stones would break in such conditions”. These are the words of Vanja Vajagic, commenting on the administrative requirements for migrants in Europe, and Malta in particular, to obtain a legal status in their country of refuge. Her specialisation in alcohol and drug addictions has opened a door to a marginalised world — that of thousands of African migrants who have ended up drowning their sorrows in drugs and alcohol.
Her NGO, the Peace and Good Foundation is committed to finding a solution to the dangerous scourge that results from chronic anxiety. “People are anxious about papers,” she says,
“But it goes further than that. The fact is that no one takes care of them emotionally upon their arrival. The lack of moral support, far away from their familiar environment, made bigger by the worrying economic situation and constantly increasing rent, cultural and lingual differences, the lack of intellectual competence according to the European standard, the lack of a basic education for some, synonymous with a non-competitive job market, a demanding family to satisfy back home… The absence of an official, friendly place to express their fears, all this creates massive insecurity, and even a total loss of all self-esteem… even stones would break in these conditions.”
Vanja Vajagic, is a Serbian woman who arrived in Malta in 2014 after finishing university, decided to stay, because like Italy, Malta was the main entry to migrants coming from Africa. From this experience, she will decide to create a place of professional — and, of course, humanitarian — support, which is crucial for people who are vulnerable.
In this interview, she reveals that many migrants of all origins do not succeed in developing a defense mechanism against the precarious situation that they find themselves in and find themselves at the mercy of their addictions.
“Once first drink is had or the first puff is drawn, the temptation for a second is strong, the euphoria that ensues is relaxing, it distances from anxiety, it gets rid of fear, shame.”
Bureaucracy, Culture and addiction.
Certain groups of migrants are at a larger risk than others. Eritreans who “come from a culture of submission and don’t know how to fight against abuse, are different to Nigerians, for example, who are more combative.” However, this submission can turn into an advantage when it helps lessen the shock in the case of a lost conflict. This is a case of governmental anti-immigration decisions that are almost impossible to fight, such as one recently taken by the authorities to abolish humanitarian protection for almost 1300 migrants from Africa. This news plunged the beneficiaries into anxiety, making one Ghanaian migrant commit suicide. One would think this extreme action would have made the government more lenient.
It is important to keep in mind that Malta has held the position of European Union presidency since the beginning of the year. During the inaugural speech, the Prime-minister Joseph Muscat clearly demonstrated his hardened stance on immigration. According to Vanja, the government isn’t ready to recognise their responsibilities in the case of the mental distress of the migrants because they require proof of their good health prior to be accepted into the country. This is impossible to verify due to the lack of medical documentation coming from the country of origin.
Surviving in a highly academic society
The goal of the Peace and Good Foundation is to encourage the immigrants to give themselves a chance to survive in a highly academic and individualistic society .
“It angers me to see a boy who speaks four languages be a precarious brick layer in a construction site. My goal is to explain to them that only their education will give them back their lost confidence. Thanks to education, they will stop being afraid of their fellow European kin that talk with assurance and authority, they will have to learn a job and will be in possession of a Maltese diploma recognised by the authorities. With the fruits of education, they will be capable of representing themselves in society and beating racism, they will be better able to aid their families in Africa.”
As an “immigrant from the East” herself, Vanja fights against discrimination.
“Before asking to be loved by the Maltese, what are you doing to express your love for them? What do you know of their culture? Do you know how they dress to go to a funeral? Do you know how they greet their guests? Do you know what gifts to bring when invited by a Maltese family? Do you cook traditional Maltese dishes? Have you tried to make friends with a Maltese? The responses to these questions are revealing of the migrant who blames others without questioning himself.”
When helping devalues the Other
All of the