Malta’s human rights NGOs are “deeply concerned” by plans for the importation of Turkish nationals to work on a number of major construction projects and behoused in metal containers.

In a statement, NGOs Aditus foundation, Jesuit Refugee Service, and Integra Foundation said it was clear that the reported housing conditions were inadequate.

The Sunday Times of Malta this week reported how the Turkish ‘village’ that was being constructed illegally in a quarry just outside Mqabba was intended by its developers to remain in place for at least five years.

The compound was meant to serve as residential quarters for hundreds of Turkish construction workers imported into the island on low wages.

However, work has ostensibly stopped after the Planning Authority intervened.

The project was devised by local road construction magnates and quarry owners Bonnici Brothers Group of Burmarrad, together with TACA Construction, a large Turkish firm based in Ankara.

Last week, the Times of Malta published a report about what was going on in the Mqabba quarry, as containers were being erected and workers were seen already living on site. Following the report, the Planning Authority sent its inspectors to stop the work.

Describing the ongoing development as “illegal”, the planning regulator said that “it found no evidence that any persons were living there”.

Meanwhile, the NGOs on Monday said it was upsetting to read that hundreds of men would be housed in metal containers or similar make-shift structures and paid the lowest possible rates in return for what is extremely tough and strenuous work.

Under no circumstances, the statement reads, could metal containers be considered humane treatment, and the refugee centres in ─Žal Far provided ample evidence of the severe impact such living conditions had on a person’s physical and mental health.

The sleeping compounds that have been installed in an Mqabba quarry. Photo: Matthew MirabelliThe sleeping compounds that have been installed in an Mqabba quarry. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

For too long, Malta had been on a path of normalising the ill-treatment of certain foreigners.

It would appear that the lives of those migrants filling the employment gaps of work often described as ‘what the Maltese no longer want to do’ were deemed less significant, less worthy, and less human, the statement read.

“Malta has the obligation to respect, protect and fulfil the fundamental human rights of all persons in Malta, irrespectively of their nationality or their purpose of stay in Malta,” they said.

Furthermore, it was unclear whether Government’s assessment as to the modalities of this ‘importation’ had taken into account the complex issues it would inevitably raise.

Were relevant institutions well-equipped to ensure on-going monitoring of working conditions? Had the risk of onward human trafficking been factored and addressed?

Would the workers be allowed to actually have a social, religious and personal life outside working hours? Would membership in local trade unions be permitted, so that their right to free association could be guaranteed? How would the Government prevent and tackle the negative and possibly violent response from far-right or other disgruntled sectors?

The NGOs were also keen to underline that Malta’s recent ratification of the ILO Protocol on Forced Labour was in stark contrast to this situation and to the broader and on-going treatment of migrant workers.

Notably, the Protocol highlights that “there is an increased number of workers who are in forced or compulsory labour in the private economy, that certain sectors of the economy are particularly vulnerable, and that certain groups of workers have a higher risk of becoming victims of forced or compulsory labour, especially migrants.”

The group therefore strongly urged the government to ensure that these Turkish workers, and all other foreign workers, were guaranteed the legal, social and judicial protection they were entitled to.

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