News | Sunday, 31 January 2010

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Asylum sought and found, but what about a job?

In Marsa, DAVID DARMANIN speaks to African jobseekers waiting to be picked up for a day’s work, only to find out that it is not as easy as it seems

Despite the rain, at 11:30am last Friday a few dozen migrants still hoped to get picked up for work, as they patiently sat on the pavement in Aldo Moro Road, waiting. Some had been there since 4am.
Prior to their arrival in Malta, many of these asylum seekers had lived in Tripoli, where the order of the day for migrant workmen is to loiter in main streets, holding construction tools until they are picked up, many a time in vanloads, for a day’s labour.
The practice has picked up in Marsa too, but unlike the norm in the Libyan capital (where construction and development is thriving), the system hardly reaps any fruit for migrants hoping to earn a living in Malta.
“We come here everyday, starting at 4am.,” Mohammad, from Mali, told MaltaToday. “But we never get any work.”
Mohammad has been spending his days on the Marsa kerbside for more than a month now, with the only result of having been summoned for work once: as a dishwasher for one 10-hour day at a €3 per hour rate – some 80c below the national minimum wage.
“I think €30 for 10 hours’ work is very little, and this is not good,” he complained. “I paid good money to come to Malta, but it is very difficult to get any of it back because work is so hard to find.”
Asked whether he has ever found work for which he never got paid, Mohammad said that although it never happened to him personally, he knows of cases where friends “went to work for a whole day and did not get a single cent in the end.”
In these cases however, Mohammad and his friends shy away from reporting to the police. “We never get anything from anyone here,” he complained. “Nothing is OK.”
As he claims that “Libya is much better for work”, Mohammad was asked whether he has ever considered returning.
“No,” he answered adamantly. “In Libya you find work easily and you make good money, but Africa is very bad. This is why I left. Everyone is against us in Tripoli – not only the police, but the entire population. They’re very hard on us. I came in Malta to stay. I still hope to find a steady job and build myself a family here.”
Nearly a hundred people had been in Marsa looking for work last Friday, but the majority lost hope and returned to the Hal Far Tent Village or the neighbouring Marsa Open Centre were they are currently domiciled.
“Today, if there is no work, we go back to Hal Far at around noon,” he said. “Too many people come here looking for work. I think only about four people were picked for work today, and this is very normal.”
Regardless of overcrowding, migrants get organised on their daily quest for temporary employment. They stand in singles, pairs or groups of four, six or more. In every group, there is often an English speaker. This way, employers looking for a group will know where to go and will be able to communicate with jobseekers.
In another group, this time composed of a pair, an unnamed migrant said he had been waiting there since 5am.
“I have never worked a day in the past six months – and I come here looking for work every day,” he said.
“In Libya we’d get picked up, although not every day. There were days when we were lucky, and other days when we weren’t. Libya is better for work yes, but the police were not good there. They’re good in Malta.”


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