Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Africans in Malta

Malta is still hot and humid! While northern Europe slides into Autumn, down here the sun shines brightly for almost 12 hours a day. Far too hot for me to think about work - such as sorting out photos or sightseeing - so I just go down to the Tigne Beach Club to catch a bit of breeze and take a dip in the Med to cool off.

With a population of around 400,000 and total area of approx. 316 sq km, I believe Malta is the smallest country in the European Union, and not well placed to deal with the influx of refugees from Africa who are now arriving by the boat load. The EU is doing nothing to help. Malta is already one of the most densely populated countries on earth, and large numbers of Maltese themselves emigrate to look for work and opportunities elsewhere (Edward de Bono is one of the more famous Maltese expatriates).

Most of the refugees are placed in one of two camps in the interior of the island, a closed camp which they cannot leave, and an open camp where people are free to come and go. A few, after being held for 18 months, are given ID cards and allowed to look for work on the island. There isn't much. One such is a young man from Abidjan in the Ivory Coast, Mamadou. Tall and good looking, speaking fluent French and learning English quickly, he tidies away deck chairs and sweeps up at the club. He looks sad, worried that by the end of October there'll be no more work for him. A few of his friends, he tells me, have gone to mainland Europe with young women who arranged the necessary papers for them. He'd like to do the same...but patrons at the beach club are mostly local Maltese, not foreigners, so his chances of meeting someone this year look slim.