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80% of asylum seekers living in poverty

Research shines light on risk of poverty often overlooked by official figures

Julian Caruana, author of Struggling to survive. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

Julian Caruana, author of Struggling to survive. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

A staggering 80 per cent of asylum seekers surveyed by the Jesuit Refugee Service and Aditus Foundation are currently living at risk of poverty, more than five times the rate in the general population.

A new study, which will be launched today, also found that asylum seekers’ households earn €200 less a month on average than the €680 respondents said they would need to cover their most basic needs.

Asylum seekers who have been in Malta for a longer period of time are no less likely than new arrivals to be at risk of poverty.

Struggling to survive: an investigation into the risk of poverty among asylum seekers in Malta is based on research carried out by the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) and Aditus in 72 migrant households, comprising 125 individuals, including 33 children.

Julian Caruana, the author of the report, told the Times of Malta the research shines a light on the risk of poverty often overlooked by official figures such as Eurostat, which groups asylum seekers with non-EU nationals living or working here. “In Malta, the discrepancy between non-EU migrants and Maltese people is very low, which has been taken as an indication that migrants in Malta are very well off,” Dr Caruana said.

“As a general population that may be true, but not all non-EU migrants are asylum seekers. The rationale behind the study was to look at asylum seekers as a specific group, to get an idea of poverty and deprivation in that population.”

While the study is not exhaustive, Dr Caruana said that it points clearly to a significantly heightened risk of poverty and material deprivation in the asylum-seeker population, regardless of their protection status.

On average, the households surveyed had a disposable income of €4,800, well below the threshold of €7,600 considered to indicate a risk of poverty.

The study pointed to high unemployment among asylum seekers, with 45 per cent of household heads jobless despite the majority having access to a work permit and in some cases social benefits.

The high prevalence of seasonal work meant that less than a quarter were in full-time employment year round, while only one of 17 households with two adults had both in gainful employment.

“The unfortunate reality is that if you’re earning minimum wage or low-average wage, you need both adults working not to be in poverty,” Dr Caruana said. “In an asylum-seeking context, that becomes extremely difficult.”

The report also found a high level of mental health problems among migrants at risk of poverty, creating the possibility of a vicious cycle and making it even harder for people to find work.

Dr Caruana said that while some of the issues that underpinned the findings were common to the general population – such as the low minimum wage and high rent prices – migrants also faced unique cultural and bureaucratic obstacles in seeking access the labour market.

Jobsplus employment support services, for example, are currently only available to those with refugee status. The report recommends them being opened to all asylum seekers, helping the country take advantage of an untapped human resource and reducing dependence on social services.

Deprivation Item Study sample (% unable to afford item) General population (% unable to afford item)
Private car or van 74.70 3.30
One week annual holiday 95.80 51.90
Eating meat, chicken or fish every other day 40 15.50
Facing unexpected expense of €350 84.20 24.70
Keeping home adequately warm in winter 31.60 22.10
Household in arrears for rent or bills 38.90 15

The report also supports proposals by Caritas for a minimum essentials budget, an increase in the minimum wage and strengthening of social security benefits. It suggests an integration programme at an early stage to help migrants learn the language and adapt to life in Malta, and more effective regulation of temporary employment.

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