Tonight is our last night in Malta. We had a final dinner with our professor and new friend, Edward Zammit, and his wife Carmen. It was sad to say goodbye, as they have been wonderful travel companions. We have now become honorary family members.
Today we traveled to a government-run open center in Hal-Far, which was very far (relatively) from the more densely populated areas of the island. It was previously an abandoned army barracks, and basically consists of row upon row of shipping containers sitting on cement platforms. Six people live in each container. We walked through the area and spent some time talking with some of the inhabitants, most of whom are Somali or Eritrean. It continues to be surprising how optimistic and good-natured the people are whom we speak to, despite the conditions they are living in and the hardship they have seen.
We also visited another open center nearby where the majority of Syrian survivors of the boat which capsized several months ago are living. Approximately 100 people of the 400 on-board perished while awaiting rescue. There were reportedly other boats nearby, but did not come to their aid due to the complicated international issue, instead waiting for Italian authorities to negotiate with the Maltese concerning who would come to their rescue. We met one Syrian man who had lost his wife and two of three daughters. He passed around his phone which had their picture while a crowd of other inhabitants looked on. It was uncomfortable to be sharing in something so personal with this stranger, and heart-rending to look at the photo of his beautiful wife and smiling daughters, knowing that they had drowned. The Syrian man was eventually overcome with grief from remembering, and retreated inside his “container” with tears in his eyes. We we all silent as we left the center.
The second half of the day consisted of meetings with representatives of the UNHCR (United Nations High Commission on Refugees) and IOM (International Organization for Migrants). These both deal with the processes of resettlement and repatriation, respectively. The majority of persons resettled go to the United States, and I was somewhat surprised to hear the figure that in 2012 the United States accepted 80,000 refugees worldwide into the United States, 350 of whom came from Malta. That may seem like a small portion compared to the whole, but for Malta it is a lot, considering that the United States is thus far the only country to participate in resettling the large ratio of migrants arriving in Malta relative to size and population density.
I feel as though we have now gotten the full perspective on all aspects of asylum seekers coming to Malta, how they are processed, where they live, where they come from, their hopes and concerns, and their future prospects. This course has been thorough, eye-opening, and emotionally trying, all in one. I am so thankful to have had the opportunity to take it.
Now back to Rome early tomorrow morning, a trip to the Vatican Museum, some final enjoying of cappuccinos, gelato and pizza in the evening, and then we are off to Chicago, America!