Dog stool and garbage on the streets of Victoria, Gozo

1st July, 2020. The photo of this post was taken in the very center of Victoria, Gozo. Dogshit next to a pile of garbage. All over Malta and Gozo it is the law to clean up dog stool. While most people comply with these regulations, there are always a few who are not willing.

Leaving dog poop on a field or in the limits of a town is one thing, but letting a dog poop in the middle of the city center and leave it there just screams primitive ignorance.

Europe has turned a blind eye to deaths in the Mediterranean

An estimated 20,000 people died on the overcrowded, brutal slave ships owned by Edward Colston, the 17th century slave trader whose statue protesters toppled and threw into harbor in Bristol, England, earlier this week.

That tragic figure finds a strange echo in Europe’s more recent history. Since 2014, more than 20,000 people have died or gone missing in the Mediterranean Sea. As protesters mobilize against racism in Europe in the wake of the killing of George Floyd in the United States, it’s important not to forget the victims of modern indifference and hate on this side of the Atlantic. 

To be sure, we shouldn’t carelessly equate the slave trade of the 17th century across the Atlantic Ocean and boat migration across the Mediterranean Sea in the 21st century. At a minimum, that would deny the agency, determination and courage of so many people on these modern-day voyages across the seas. 

But there are certainly parallels. Now as then, black and brown human beings are packed into the hull of boats for frightening journeys to uncertain futures. Thousands never make it — they drown or die of dehydration or exposure or simply disappear. 

The grim connection wasn’t lost on migrants’ rights activists or demonstrators in Italy — one of the countries so many of the deceased were trying to reach. At a recent protest there, one sign read: “From the Mediterranean to Minneapolis under water or under a knee, I can’t breathe.” 

Since 2014, the European Union and its member countries have focused on stopping the boats from reaching Europe rather than saving lives. Europe’s indifference and attempts to outsource its responsibilities to its neighbors is clear across the Mediterranean, from the western sector between Spain and Morocco to the eastern part between Greece and Turkey. 

European governments have abdicated their responsibilities to carry out search and rescue operations at sea, and then obstructed and criminalized the nongovernmental groups that stepped in to save lives. In the central Mediterranean, by far the deadliest stretch, Italy and Malta have shamelessly squabbled and dithered over rescues, even as they closed their ports and struck bilateral deals with Libya to block the boats.

This is all part of the overall EU strategy to outsource migration control to Libyan authorities. A central plank of this effort has been to fund, train and empower Libyan Coast Guard forces to intercept boats and to ignore that they then drag their occupants back to arbitrary detention and abuse in Libya.

The evidence of brutality against migrants there is overwhelming, especially against those in nightmarish arbitrary detention. They are treated as commodities, pressed into forced labor and sold among trafficking networks, their bodies brutalized to extort money out of distraught relatives back home.

The EU’s failure to prioritize rescue operations and the willingness of EU governments to condemn people to abuse in Libya give lie to the periodic spectacles of compassion over tragedies at sea. 

Instead of platitudes, European leaders should offer ships and life jackets and safe ports to those rescued at sea. They should support, not obstruct, the efforts of NGOs and rescue groups. 

Just as justice for George Floyd requires addressing structural racism, ending deaths in the Mediterranean requires coming up with a different approach to human mobility. 

Europe should adopt policies that respond not only to the needs of those fleeing persecution and violence but also to the aspirations of those seeking to better their lives. This means creating more safe and legal pathways to minimize the need for people to resort to dangerous journeys. 

Europe should also adopt border governance policies and migration cooperation arrangements that are based on respect for human rights and human dignity, not exclusion and violence. And Europe should work toward creating inclusive societies where discrimination and racism have no place, and newcomers and people of immigrant origin alike experience just and fair treatment. 

Whether you believe protesters were right or wrong to throw a statue into a harbor, we can all agree that no more human beings should be left to sink into the sea.

“Marsalforn is a f###ing ghetto” says Nigerian immigrant

Marsalforn in Gozo has gone through a construction boom in the past decade, transforming from the pretty beachside town into a concrete mess. Because of the congestion and poorly built buildings lacking any style and comfort, Marsalforn apartment rental prices are among the lowest in the entire country. This is the primary reason why Marsalforn is a popular place to stay for immigrants, asylum seekers and temporary workers primarily from Eastern Europe.

We met our first interview applicant by the construction site next to the Lighthouse supermarket. Carefully stepping over a pile of garbage, Banjoko from Nigeria starts the conversation by expresses his opinion:

“Marsalforn is a fucking ghetto”

His limited English would make it difficult to share the entire conversation, but briefly he expressed that he deeply regretted coming to Malta, and he will move on as soon as travel be possible. Banjoko highlighted that the streets of Marsalforn are dirtier compared to Nigeria.

Coming from a wealthy family, Banjoko paid a hefty price to arrive to Europe. He does not work, as he cannot find a job for his career level. Back in Nigeria he used to work as an architect but in Malta he would only find construction, agricultural or restaurant hand jobs. In Marsalforn he is renting a two bedroom apartment and sub-lets one bedroom to his friends so his living expenses are covered. He regularly receives money from Nigeria, so taking a low-level job is not necessary.

He highlighted that his black friends often receive racist comments and threats primarily from older Maltese people. They are being called “animals” or reminded that coming to Malta must be a welcome change compared to Nigeria.

Because of the racist comments, Banjoko and his friends try to avoid contact with Maltese people, but they can comfortably socialize with other immigrants and asylum seekers. He finds Serbians to be funny and friendly. Based on his feedback, he is popular among white ladies, especially single mothers or those who are unhappy in their marriage.

Serious garbage issues in Victoria, Gozo

In Victoria, Gozo – just opposite McDonald’s, there is a parking lot where there are a few eateries, including an Italian and an organic food outlet. Just next to those two there is a dental clinic which is often referred as the cheapest and worst dental clinic in Gozo.

Since years, residents living nearby have been complaining about the garbage stacking up between these shops and restaurants. From morning to evening the pile grows, and in the evening one can find heaps of garbage right in the center of Gozo’s capital.

The garbage collection spot near the Victoria bus terminus is just few hundred meters away, probably a 2 minute drive only. Residents are upset why shop owners cannot remove their garbage daytime, or after closing.

Garbage problems are all around Victoria

Leaving garbage behind is not only a problem at J.F. Kennedy Square. Few streets up garbage bags are piling up next to each other in front of Captain Spriss and Porta Reale, two Italian managed eateries. The garbage bags left behind often attract rats and cockroaches in the late evenings.

Garbage piles stacking up can be also seen 0-24 near the Downtown hotel, on the road to Marsalforn and near the Health Center – all in the center of Victoria.