NEWS | Sunday, 11 November 2007

Negative reaction to immigrants from councils, says minister

Bianca Caruana

Family and Social Solidarity Minister Dolores Cristina has said local councils and the public in general “react negatively” to the presence of immigrants being housed in special residences, claiming that the Fgura local council was refusing to pick up the waste from asylum seekers and immigrants housed in Dar il-Liedna – a claim mayor Darren Marmara has denied.
But the issue appears to revolve around the mass of waste generated by the residence, which houses unaccompanied minor asylum seekers and families, for which Marmara is claiming is causing “too many problems”.
Minister Cristina was answering questions over the provision of housing units to immigrants and the homeless. She said the ministry kept a “low profile” over government accommodation for the reintegration of institutionalised youth due to the negative reaction of local councils and the public.
She added that the same issue crops up over residence for immigrants, as was the case of Dar il-Liedna in Fgura where she said the council was refusing to pick up their waste.
Darren Marmara has however denied the claim. “Since about 15 bags of waste are taken out of the home every day, on Monday morning we find 30 bags on the pavement since collection does not take place on Sunday. The result is hygienically and aesthetically detrimental and blocks access to the pavement outside.”
He said the council was rendering its collection service to everybody and said it considered the residence’s community ‘citizens of Fgura’. “But there are 60 residents today there, when Cristina had first said it would house 40. That’s a broken promise already. These are the kind of problems which happen with a sudden influx of a large number of people in one place.”
Marmara claimed the ministry had not informed the council of its plans for the home, which opened in November 2006. “We have discussed the problem of waste on the council monitoring board. Thirty bags of rubbish on Monday morning is unacceptable, and the minister must see that the residence is managed better.”
Cristina has said the ministry and the Housing Authority are working with NGOs to improve the situation for homeless people through funding. Referring to the housing of immigrants, she said Malta has a “fairly short history of immigration problems”.
“We are always met with resistance from the local councils and general public when trying to open residences for immigrants or to house youth with mental or physical disabilities. They seem to have this unfounded fear that the value of their property is going to go down, but this is not so.
“The ministry has a unit which deals in this area, however we do have our limitations. We have come under scrutiny from local councils and the people whilst trying to help both immigrants and reintegrating people from institutionalised backgrounds. It is a hard job and we usually have to keep quiet about it so as to not raise any problems.”
Minister Dolores Cristina was talking during a conference which announced that a total of 331 housing units are being put up for sale on a shared ownership basis by the government.
The chairman of YMCA Jean-Paul Mifsud, who runs a homeless shelter in Valletta told MaltaToday the ministry has awarded the NGO Lm15,000, Lm5,000 of which is used to “lessen the burden encountered by the homeless. The remaining Lm10,000 is spent on the professional service provided. We have been asking for more funding over the years but this has not happened as yet.”
Mifsud said the YMCA worked “hand-in-hand” on a daily basis with the Housing Authority to make use of the schemes for the vulnerable groups to bring the standard benchmark up.

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