Waiting to leave: The Hal-Far Open Centres (Part I)
I have been a little behind in my posts due to a busy schedule now that I am in Malta. Yesterday, with permission from AWAS (Agency for the Welfare of Asylum Seekers), I visited the Hal-Far Open Centres which are located on the South coast of Malta, not far from the main airport and about a 45 minute meandering bus ride from Valletta. There are 3 Hal-Far Open Centres: the single male-only "Tent Village," the Women and Family Centre, and the "Hangar" which is also for single males. The Centres are all within view of each other around what seems to be a decommissioned military airfield. Remember, these centres are where refugees in Malta go once they are released from detention. Here they receive free accommodation (if it can be called that) and a monthly allowance for food and basic needs. The government agency responsible for the Hal-Far Centres, APOGG, states on its website that the Centres aim "to build a sense of community...and empower the residents to become self-sufficient and independent, a well as being integrated into the Maltese society." However, as I found, this goal is so far from being met that it sounds like a cruel joke.
The first Centre that I visited was the Tent Village. From the entrance I could see perhaps 3 rows of ten large military-style tents. Most of them were grey-white in colour but a few were forest green. There did not seem to be too much activity with only a few men wandering about. I was introduced to the Centre's coordinator and I spoke to him at length about a number of issues. He was a large and severe man who seemed to be in his early 60s and he chomped on a cigar as we talked in his office. I got the sense from the way in which he answered questions that he was tired of the whole refugee situation and had perhaps given up on trying to make things better at his Centre. It was not that he did not seem to care about the refugees there it was just that in his mind things were about as good as they were going to get. He told me that each tent could hold a maximum of 20 migrants and that most were not full at the moment with about 14-16 in each. He said that Village itself could accomodate up to 900 people but there were about 500 at the time of my visit.
The newer "prefab" housing units at Hal-Far Tent Village with a glimpse of one of the tents just beyond
The only common space at Hal-Far Tent Village with a small kitchen and chairs for watching tv