Malta through the Eyes of a Refugee – Abbas
Some reflections on the refugee experience, written by a member of the Sudanese community in Malta.
Abbas is from Sudan and he arrived in Malta to seek asylum in 2005. He is an active member of the Sudanese Community organisation, which provides support to other Sudanese refugees and migrants in Malta. Abbas works full-time and is also studying to become a civil engineer. In 2019 he completed the ‘I Belong’ programme, the Government’s integration programme which provides courses in English, Maltese and cultural orientation to all migrants.
The Refugee Experience
When you are a refugee or migrant, it means that you left your own country and started a new life in another country. If you are a refugee, it means that something has happened in your country or region to make you leave home by force, and you had to depart to protect yourself in a safe place. There are many reasons people leave home and become refugees, for example, civil war, political troubles and natural disasters such as earthquakes or floods.
It’s not easy to make a decision to leave your home. It is very difficult, as you must forsake the place in which you were born, sometimes abandon your own family, leave your friends and upbringing, and leave your business, work or trade.
Suddenly you find yourself away from home, walking on an unknown road, with not enough money. It is a big dilemma, how to face your new life, and you might not understand your new situation. Which way should you choose to go? How do you deal with your new situation abroad? How do you learn your rights, duties and responsibilities?
You find yourself facing a lot of problems and issues in a new land. Before stability you have to face the complicated process of applying for asylum. Then you have to learn the laws and adapt to the system of the country in which you settled. After becoming a refugee, the next stage is usually to find work. The system might be completely different to your own country, and it might take time before you understand.
For refugees to integrate in Malta, the first challenge is language. When anybody tries to learn the Maltese language, it becomes easier to integrate with Maltese. Because language makes people close to each other, and understand each other.
In addition, there is the issue of how the people in the new society accept you. You notice the gazes of the people towards foreigners and migrants in the streets. Some of the locals accept the new people in their community and share life with them, but other people don’t accept migrants and foreigners among them, and those people raise their voices high. They believe refugees don’t have real problems in their countries and that they are complaining all the time. These people demand the government deport all foreigners.
Many do not understand that refugees come from a bad situation. They left their country, not for an easy reason, it was a difficult decision to leave… I hope the Maltese people understand this.
But even sympathy is not enough to support you, because as they say, somebody putting their hand in water is not like someone who puts their hand on a fire. Only asylum-seekers and refugees understand what it’s like to be them.
Looking at our world religions, migration is an important topic. For example, the Prophet Mohamed migrated from his own district because his enemies tried to kill him, and in the Bible, Mary and Joseph had to flee to Egypt with baby Jesus Christ.
In the past most people migrated and left their countries, and new countries were created, such as the USA, Canada and Australia. My opinion is that all the people should welcome foreigners with their cultures, religions, languages and their variety for a more successful future.
I want people to respect me, I want to be a positive person in Malta. To work legally… to educate myself, and to improve myself all the time, to help Maltese people, to pay my taxes.
One of my happiest moments in Malta was when I found the opportunity to complete my education. In my country I had to stop my education, for many reasons. But here I could continue… even if it takes a long time. Apart from that, my friendships with Maltese people, and working with the Sudanese community, make me happy here.
A version of this article also appears in Building Communities, a UNHCR Malta magazine published in January 2020.