By SOS Malta
The EU’s smallest member state, but also one of the frontline countries, Malta has had its fair share of challenges in the area of migration and has become renowned as a tough place for the migrant community to put down roots.
SOS Malta recently sat down with Regine Psaila from African Media Association Malta, a media NGO promoting the African perspective with news, empowerment, and advocacy, to discuss political engagement of migrants on the island.
Regine was recently part of an initiative called the Turning the Tables that as its name implies, aimed to tackle integration related matters leading to policy changes.
One of the activities was a conference on political rights, which she explained, shed light on the various barriers migrants face regarding political engagement in Malta:
“In particular, the fact that migrants are not allowed to vote in Malta, but even more than that, there is little interest in taking part in the political activities, at local council level or at national level, due to the language barrier: the political spectrum is exclusively in the Maltese language and many foreigners do not speak it fluently,” she explained.
“Also, the integration policies as a whole, which do not define a clear path to integration, lead to a feeling of eternal temporality by foreigners who don’t feel that they will ever belong to the country,” she continued.
It was clear to Regine that some policies and regulations (every year renewal of working permit, no clear path to citizenship..etc) hinder migrants’ participation in political activities.
“They don’t have the right to vote, despite their contributions to Maltese society, few will become Maltese citizens,” she pointed out.
To add to this, migrants often feel underrepresented in the political sphere, no one looks like them or speaks like them, apart from the Green party, which unfortunately doesn’t have a real power in parliament, she said.
“That leads to a sense of alienation and disengagement from political processes,” she explained.
Some solutions to engage migrants politically
Despite it being a challenging landscape, there were solutions, Regine said.
Some of these include the launching of awareness campaigns to educate the Maltese population about the contributions of migrants, she pointed out.
Language support services exists, she continued, but they should be made mandatory, not only for single permit workers, but also for refugees and asylum seekers who have made Malta their home.
“This will force all to speak Maltese, and so they will better understand political processes, their rights, and responsibilities,” she underlined.
Of course, it is clear granting voting rights to migrants who have acquired the Maltese language and meet specific criteria, can boost their engagement and sense of belonging, she explained.
“All political parties should promote migrant representation in politics,” she said.
Better representation in the media
Migrant representation in the media is also crucial to showing to the Maltese population that many people ‘looking like’ foreigners actually feel Maltese, Regine pointed out. Currently, the media often portrays migrants through narrow and negative stereotypes or only highlights issues related to immigration crises, she said.
“By increasing positive and diverse representation, the media can foster a sense of belonging: When migrants see themselves represented positively in the media, they are more likely to feel like valued members of society, which can boost their confidence and motivation to engage in political processes,” she explained.
If migrants see other individuals from their community actively speaking at rallies, or reporting on topics that are not only about migration, they are more likely to be inspired to do the same, and that can lead to an interest in the political reality of the country.
This also goes both ways; having a diverse media representation can help Maltese society understand the diverse backgrounds, cultures, and perspectives of migrants.
**For the purpose of this article, the interviewee has defined the term ‘migrants’ as being those non-EU citizens who are not British or Australian citizens. More specifically, Regine uses the term ‘migrants’ to detail the experiences of Africans and Asians, individuals who suffer from an ‘extra layer’ of discrimination when compared to other non-EU migrants who are white or light- skinned.