I arrived in Malta the other day and have settled into our hotel just outside the Valletta city walls. I have been in touch with organizations that are involved with the various refugee centres but since it was the weekend I thought I would go to the Marsa Open Centre on my own just to get an initial impression of the place.
The walk took me through a couple of the towns surrounding Valletta including Floriana and Marsa. The Open Centre is located in the shipyards of Marsa (habour) and is subsequently surrounded by signs of industry. I am not totally sure what I expected to find at the Open Centre but even if I was prepared for worst, what I saw troubled me deeply. The first signs of the Centre came as I walked through Marsa. I started to see groups of young African men headed in what seemed to be the same direction. In fact, these men were almost the only people around and I was definitely in the minority, especially on a Saturday when few of the other locals seemed to be about.
The centre itself is situated right next to what appears to be the main docks in Marsa. A canal from the harbour runs inland along the Western edge and the Eastern side is bordered by a hill and large industrial warehouses. The canal and harbour were filthy and the stench of sewage permeated the air making it difficult to remain near the centre for too long. This may have been for the best since I was aware that I may have been making the migrants uncomfortable as I took photos and sketched outside the Centre. I did not venture inside the compound but rather thought I would wait until returning with an organization that might introduce me to the migrants and make my presence more official.
Since I did not go into the Centre this time to get a sense of the interior conditions, the main things that unsettled me were the surroundings. I mentioned the stench from pollution but what also bothered me was the extent to which the Centre seemed to be cut off from the rest of Marsa. Its closest neighbour was an abbatoire (which probably contributed to the odour) and the aforementioned docks. The canal effectively cut the Centre off from the more urban area to the West and it was still about a 5 minute walk in this direction before I encountered any sign of non-industrial buildings. The Centre's physical location is one the main issues I hope to address with the organizations and the migrants in the coming days.