What would you do if it was no longer possible for you to live in your country?
Refugees are some of the most misunderstood and rapidly growing communities in the world. In fact, nearly one person is displaced on the planet every five seconds. And as far-right sentiments and fear-based assumptions surge, the need to dismantle misconceptions is as crucial as ever.
In an interview with Lovin Malta’s Jon Mallia, a young man and woman open up about the hurdles to seeking asylum in Malta – and pull on some heartstrings about their favourite things about the island.
“I feel super safe in Malta as a human being,” said Dali, a dedicated activist and performing arts student, who fled Tunisia in fear of prosecution for being gay.
Now he lives in Fgura with his partner Chakib and his lovable pet dog Bobby, and advocates for the rights of LGBTIQ people. Back home, he could have been arrested and imprisoned for three years because of his sexuality.
Agnes, a Zimbabwean wife and mother, suffered harshly in the first few years she was in Malta. As a survivor of trafficking, she was brought to Malta under the pretence of fair employment but soon found herself trapped in a situation she could not escape and was even exploited by her next employer.
With time she found a way to escape again and with the support of Maltese law enforcement and NGOs, she got her life back on track.
She could not return to Zimbabwe because she is at risk of political persecution there and needed to seek asylum.
“I am feeling safe, and I am comfortable now… I am not in bondage like before,” she explained to Mallia.
Agnes is about to start a nursing course at university. She is also writing her life story, hoping to get it published as a book and raise awareness on the experience of someone who was trafficked and exploited.
What is a refugee?
A refugee, according to the 1951 Convention (and Maltese legislation) is a person who, owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his/her nationality and is not able to, or because of that fear is not willing to, avail him/herself of the protection of their country.
Dali, from Tunisia, and Agnes, from Zimbabwe, have refugee status.
This means Malta has given them protection from being returned home, where their lives would be in danger. It means the difference between a life of fear and a life of hope. As refugees, they have the right to legally reside, work, and study in Malta, to contribute to the society we live in.
However, even once they are granted rights, being a refugee is not often easy, as they face many of the challenges that come with trying to integrate in a new community. Yet, both of them are overcoming these challenges everyday with determination.
Dali and Agnes’s experiences show how there are diverse reasons people become refugees. But when a host country is welcoming, refugees can truly integrate and are offered a chance to achieve a human goal: happiness.
Both refugees express their love for Maltese dishes like kusksu and bebbux. Dali often uses colloquial phrases like mela, uwejja, illalu…just like any Maltese local would. Agnes, on the other hand, loves saying grazzi at any opportunity.
What really emerges from these two refugees’ stories is encapsulated in Agnes’ final words:
“Maybe one day you will be a refugee.”
She is right, we never know why we might suddenly be threatened in our own country, or what conflicts could break out making it impossible to live in our homes.
Any of us could find ourselves having to seek safety in a distant land, and if this happened, we would want to feel assured that there are laws to protect us and communities to welcome us, so that we can have the opportunity to live a life free from fear, harm and persecution.