Durable Solutions Associate David Castillo recounts his impressions during UNHCR Malta’s first outreach with the refugee community in Gozo.
UNHCR representative to Malta Kahin Ismail (Right) and Durable Solutions Associate (Centre) meet refugees living in Gozo, July 2017
© © UNHCR/Annalisa Mantelli
In 2015 UNHCR carried out an Outreach programme in Gozo to engage (and make contact) with over 100 refugees living on the sister island. This was the beginning of a two-year project that led to the development of the ‘Gozo outreach Initiative’, which identified a number of gaps in the communities and put forward several proposals.
The outreach was held in a hall kindly provided by the Ministry of Gozo. Their offices, a historical building which previously operated as the hospital of Gozo, are located in one of my favourite pjazzas in Gozo – Pjazza St. Francis in Victoria. It is a medium-sized square, dotted with typical Gozitan bars, a small Baroque church and a beautiful fountain right in the middle.
Pjazza St. Francis has a truly special positive energy to it, and has stuck with me since my childhood years.
It is the perfect setting to simply sit at one of the bars, sip on a cold drink and watch the world go by. Nothing much has changed. The pjazza still retains the same energy I always perceived. Actually, thinking about it, it did change; it evolved, it got better.
Arriving at the pjazza for my first outreach session, the energy was vibrant, almost electrifying. I watched with content eyes the balance of Gozitans and refugees sitting together at the bars. I silently remarked, “The pjazza has now attracted people from different countries, including refugees.”
I suddenly felt a harmonious energy beseech me; it was a moment of clarity. Proudly I contemplated, “In Gozo refugees seem to be well-integrated and the Gozitans have provided balance and space for their inclusion.” I mused with the thought, trusting that my love story with the pjazza got even better.
Then a moment of reflection followed – “could I be wrong?” After all, my biases could be playing tricks on my thoughts. Back at work I wanted to test my perception. The question that we put forward was:
“Is it that simple for refugees to be well-integrated in Gozo?”
We carried out a mapping of needs by working closely with refugees living in Gozo. We also attended meetings with a number of relevant offices who for some reason or other would have an idea or two of the refugee situation in Gozo. Information shared in these meetings came to me like a lion’s roar. I was crushed. I started to understand more clearly the problems both refugees and the locals encountered. For the first time, I felt cheated by Pjazza St. Francis. I had to understand more; it couldn’t be that the energy I felt that day of the outreach had no truth.
More than a year later, working on the Gozo project gave me the opportunity to listen to both the refugees and the Gozitans. The insights I obtained, somewhat intense, helped me unfold a more realistic picture. I knew it! Pjazza St. Francis did not let me down. The problems both refugees and Gozitans face are all related to the lack of integration support available.
I questioned, “How about if refugees and Gozitans are provided the space to have dialogue, to listen to each other and allow the world to reveal itself? After all, is it not the same energy that the pjazza reveals?”
Yes, integration is possible. It is not us and them, it is all of us together.
This article originally appeared in Moving Forward – UNHCR Malta Magazine, 2018.