Italy: ‘We wanted to go to mainland Europe, not Malta’ – migrants at Hal Far open centre

A number of migrants from various countries interviewed by The Malta Independent at the Hal Far open centre yesterday said they were seeking new pastures in mainland Europe not Malta, saying that they consider Malta to be too close to Libya.

Most of the asylum seekers worked in Libya before the 2011 Gaddafi revolution but fled the country by boat after paying traffickers between €700 and €1,000 to make the perilous crossing. They said they wanted to go to Germany or Italy, but for reasons beyond their control, ended up in Malta.

Yesterday, The Malta Independent newsroom was given access to the open centre, accompanying a BBC World Service crew, who are in Malta covering the events that are unfolding following Sunday’s migrant tragedy.

On spotting our press tags, most migrants scattered and disappeared into thin air but others were more curious than others and approached us for a chat.

A group of migrants who spoke to this newsroom explained that their boat started to take in water but were lucky to have been spotted by the crew of a container ship who in turn alerted the Maltese authorities. They were rescued after days at sea.

Migrants are tired of speaking to the press

A migrant explained that he has grown tired of speaking to the international press during his stay at the open centre. “We must have spoken to all the world’s media who in turn highlighted our plight,” he said.

Mobile homes at open centre cost €10,000 each

The reception centre’s conditions have improved drastically over the years. In fact, the centre is spick-and-span. There are around 165 mobile homes lined up at the centre which are fully insulated. Each mobile home costs €10,000 and houses up to six persons. A centre employee said that 90% of the mobile home costs are paid for by the EU and the remaining 10% by the Maltese government. The cabins include basic cooking appliances and a TV set.

The refugees hail from countries such as Nigeria, Ghana and Somalia.

Accompanied by her three children, a Syrian refugee said that the boat she was in had capsized and the Maltese authorities had rescued her and her family.

She is one of the 98 migrants rescued by the Armed Forces of Malta in August last year. Another refugee said that the word outside the open centre is that most migrants who land in Malta end up staying here for years, due to the fact that their travel documents are confiscated by the authorities and they cannot leave the islands. “The only documents they are given allows them to walk around the streets of Malta – no more, no less,” he said.

Others highlighted that they feel their life is at a standstill and feel that their future prospects are bleak, however, expressed gratitude over the fact that Malta provided them shelter.

A Nigerian father said he is concerned over his son’s future. “Things are fine, but they could be better,” he said.

At this point Alex Tortell, the operations director of a government agency – AWAS – tasked to oversee the open centre operations, said that some are happy with the levels of care we provide while others not so much.

“I understand there are limitations but migrants are given free access to health care, education and the reception centres offer their services as well,” he said.