Free healthcare for open centre residents, but no means of survival

All migrants, asylum-seekers and refugees living at the Ħal Far open centre will be afforded free healthcare within the national health service during the coronavirus outbreak, following in the footsteps of the much-applauded measure recently introduced by Portugal.

However, what employment measures, if any, are to be given to the working residents remains unknown.

Health Minister Chris Fearne told The Shift that all residents will be afforded all the healthcare needed “to the same level and extent as afforded to any other resident in Malta.”

“In fact, migrants are eligible to free healthcare within the national health service,” he said.

When questions were asked regarding what employment measures will be provided to the residents should they lose their job because of forced quarantine, no answers were forthcoming. 

Approximately 1,000 people living at the centre are being kept in quarantine for two weeks after one of the residents tested positive for the virus on Sunday.

On Monday, Neil Falzon from Human Rights NGO Aditus Foundation questioned whether employment measures in place for Maltese citizens were also applicable to the employed open centre residents.

“It would be unfair to impose quarantine without offering a means of survival,” Falzon told The Shift, emphasising the struggle that migrants experienced to maintain jobs in the country.

“The virus is affecting them as much as it is everyone else so equal measures should apply to everyone”.

He also raised concern about the support and information that the migrants, asylum seekers and/or refugees are receiving. “They need to have constant access to information to comply to any rules and for the residents to be able to ask questions,” said Falzon, who also appealed for a strong WiFi connection at the centre, especially given the lockdown, which may cause unease within the community.

Fearne said “all efforts” were being made to provide open centre residents with constant and full access to information in their own languages. There was no explanation on how this was taking place.

The Shift also asked the health minister on what basis residents were ordered to remain quarantined, taking into consideration that many may not necessarily have made contact with those who contracted the virus.

Fearne said the decision was taken after a risk analysis was conducted on the situation at the centre by the Public Health Department. The results showed that total quarantine of the facility was the “necessary” move in the interest of public health.

Residents who tested positive for the virus, as well as those living in the same room with them, have been quarantined and kept apart from the rest of the residents, the health minister added.

The news of the Open Centre’s lockdown also made international headlines and received its own share of criticism. Sea Eye’s Communication officer Julian Pahlke wrote in a tweet that EU States must distribute the refugees in the camp and house them sensibly.

“This is not statistical collateral damage, but people,” he said.

Marc Tilley, an International Humanitarian Action worker also voiced his shock at the situation. “On the anniversary of Lassana Cisse’s murder by AFM soldiers in this area, the visuals of deploying riot-ready soldiers to enforce migrant quarantine are alarming,” he wrote, noting the heavy presence of soldiers and police surrounding the centre to ensure enforcement.

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