Leaving Malta

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Since 2002, nearly 10,000 African migrants ? trying to get to mainland Europe ? have landed on the tiny island nation of Malta. Many were rescued from leaky boats by the Maltese navy. Once there, they can be detained in prisons for up to 18 months and then languish for years in Malta without jobs and, and in some cases, without a decent place to live. But some manage to move on ? and find new homes in Europe and in the U.S. This is Phillip Martin's final report in our special series on nomadic migration and skin color.

Dusk is falling on the fishing village of Marsaxlokk on Malta. On one of the fishing boats, members of the mostly foreign crew all nod when asked if they have spotted or rescued African migrants on these waters.

?Yes, yes, yes,? said a man from Egypt.

Another fisherman, named Teela, from Indonesia, who declines to give a surname, joins the conversation.

?African people yes, yes, on the water. I see one person dead already. Yes, dead. So just looking and then we go.?

The fishermen then ask me to turn off my recorder. One of them said that he smuggled a boatload of Africans from Malta to Sicily ? about 66 miles away ? to make some extra money during the EU imposed fishing ban period.

Pozzallo, Sicily

And the port city of Pozzallo is where many undocumented migrants first land in Sicily.

?We have almost every week boat people landing here,? said Otillio Falcone, a humanities teacher and a tour guide here.

?Pozzallo is one of the places, closest places and there are lots of people arriving,? he said. ?In the past, much more. Now a bit less, but still. This story has been going on for years. Now, let's just say, its normal now.?

Malta's strict detention policy is one reason why the numbers have dropped. The pacts to limit immigration signed by Italy and Libya have also greatly affected immigration flow. Even so, the stream of illegal migration to Sicily continues.

In the ancient Sicilian, seaside village of Taormina the theme from the Godfather greets the crowds of tourists. But on a Medieval backstreet, Samuel, a migrant from Senegal, stuffs unsold tourist trinkets into a bag. He vents his frustration after being chased off the main road by police ?Bruto Italia. Ill scifo. No buono qua. Milo pesa.?

Samuel, as he calls himself, said Italy is ugly and he makes little money here. A few months ago, he was in a jail cell in Malta. After his release he fled to Italy, illegally, he said, but this is not what he had hoped for. What he has found in Sicily is what other Africans say they too are discovering: Italy is no longer the ideal place they once imagined: In Rosanna, Italy ,last winter, clashes between Africans and local residents demonstrated enormous tensions over migration, skin color and race.

The Rainbow House

Back on Malta, Herta Troponi, who runs a residence for African families that is translated as the Rainbow House, said migrants lately have their sights on other countries that they believe to be more hospitable to people with dark skin.

?Northern Europe, Sweden, Norway; all those countries in the north. They know there are problems even in Italy. So the further they can go north the better.?

One 24-year old Somali resident, who first arrived in Malta in 2004, is ready to leave again. She first slipped out of Malta illegally one year after she arrived here, after being denied European Union asylum. She settled in Switzerland and one of her three children was born there.

However, in 2008, after being fingerprinted, her illegal status was discovered and she was deported back to Malta. Now she wants to return to Switzerland, and seems unaware that the country today is led by a vehemently anti-immigrant party. What matters to her is the life she led in that West European nation.

?When I stayed In Switzerland they gave good house, and good life, good money and good education. Malta is small, they can't.?

Unrealistic expectations are common to migrants everywhere. For a 15-year-old Ethiopian named Faisa, the desire to reach Norway is based on something quite simple and less elaborate.

?Because I like the name, Norway,? she said.


More than three thousand miles away, a Somali immigrant is struggling to establish himself in a new home. On this day, Daoud Ali Muhammad, whom we met at the beginning of this series, is learning his way around wintry Denver on the tram.

Daoud's long journey to Denver also took him through Malta, where he applied for and received humanitarian asylum in the US.

?I attempted twice to leave Malta. I went to Germany and was caught and sent back and then I went to Italy and then they caught me and sent me back to Malta too. And I went to a priest and I told him my life story and my family died in Somalia and he told me to go and register with the UNHCR.?

Though less popular than Europe, according to migrant surveys and the United Nation's agency responsible for refugees, the UNHCR, the US is also a much-desired destination for the accidental tourists in Malta.

?The idea is to recognize that Malta is doing a humanitarian service for the world,? said Doug Kmiec, US ambassador to Malta. ?I was with a government official and he said ?we can't accommodate them all because we're a small country, so we're very grateful to the United States for taking a good portion of those that they can. The United States provided resettlement opportunities for about 200, and we have taken that most recently to 340.?

Most of those brought from Malta to the United States are Sudanese, Eritreans and Somalis. This is why Daoud Ali Muhammad is now in Denver, where he is also receiving help from Omar Nour, who helps run the Somali Community Center of Colorado. Nour traces Daoud's long route from Africa to Denver by running his index finger across a world map; from Somalia to Libya, to Malta, to Germany to Italy, back to Malta and then across the Atlantic to the US Nour expects many more Somalis will follow and laments that his native land has become a growing source of homeless nomads.

?One of the tragedies about this migration is it used to be the men who used to migrate and now we're seeing woman, old people, just trying to get out of Somalia,? Nour said. ?And a lot of them are wasted in the Sahara, in Libya, in Central Africa. Everyday when you look on the news or Somali websites you'll hear very horrific stories about people dying. It's very tragic. A whole nation uprooted and everybody wants to get out.?

The US is the eighth country that Daoud has lived in since 1992 and suggests this may not be his last.

?I really don't know how long it's going to take for me to settle in one place and say this is the place, this is home,? Daoud said. ?My life story seems to say that I keep moving and that never leaves me alone. I would like to settle one day and have a home. But God knows how long it's going to take.?

Sadly, Daoud Ali Mohammed's long journey may not be over. He recently lost his job driving a cab, he's behind on the rent, his heater is broken and he's barely eking out an existence in wintry Denver. Now, he said he's thinking about moving on.