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In Malta, Journalist Makes A Bridge Between Somalia And Asylum


Malta, off the coast of Italy, has long been known for its dramatic landscape and historic sites. Malta today is also a gateway to Europe for thousands of asylum-seekers, making dangerous boat rides from Africa. They find safety but face discrimination, automatic detention and a difficult path to integration. NPR's Leila Fadel brings us a story of a young Somali journalist who hopes to use radio to bridge that gap between migrants and the Maltese.

AHMED NUUR IBRAHIM: My name is Ahmed Nuur Ibrahim, but the people, they call me Ahmed Somali. That's my nickname.

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Ibrahim is a young Muslim Somali journalist who fled his country after the militant Islamist group Al-Shabaab threatened to kill him if he didn't join them. So he ran and spent thousands of dollars his family scraped together on a dangerous journey through the Sahara Desert in the hands of violent smugglers, through Libya's prisons and finally, to its shores to get to Europe on a dinghy with more than a hundred other people. His story is not unique. Some 19,000 people have come to Malta from Africa and the Middle East smuggled by boat since 2002, and numbers are expected to rise.

IBRAHIM: But when we come to the Malta, we get some safety - nobody to hit you, nobody to abuse you.

FADEL: But integrating here has been difficult. Asylum-seekers are automatically detained on arrival for months, and African migrants, in particular, face discrimination. The majority come from Somalia. So now that Ibrahim is free and is an official refugee, he's made it his mission to bridge the gap between the African migrant community and the Maltese society through an online radio show called The Voice of Immigrants. His first show has been recorded and will launch Tuesday.


IBRAHIM: (Foreign language spoken).

FADEL: The show is under the African Media Association of Malta, a group Ibrahim co-founded last year with a British ex-pat who works on migrant issues in Malta. They're trying to inform migrant communities about their rights and what's happening in their new country. Taking a bus with Ibrahim, aka Ahmed Somali, is like riding around with the mayor. He basically knows all the other people on the bus who sought asylum. He greets them warmly. He's either translated for them or interviewed them or helped them in some other way. But his high profile has revealed deep-seated prejudice and resentment by some toward African migrants. Ibrahim shows me pictures people have lifted from the group's Facebook page and doctored. Someone's added devil horns to his head and wrote, go back to your country. Another commenter threatens to kill Ibrahim.

IBRAHIM: It is a lot of abusing, not only this. So I surprised, really, and I'm not happy what they are doing.

FADEL: This tiny group of islands is densely populated with 400,000 people trying to cope with change, and they're worried about the influx of people overwhelming the job market. Xenophobia is on the rise. But Ibrahim says still, many Maltese have been very welcoming. And just like he came here for safety, he wants to bring his wife and kids to be here with him.

IBRAHIM: I'm black, and I'm Muslim, yes. But my aim is not to make a wrong thing. My aim is to integrate with a Maltese community.

FADEL: He knows he can't go home. He shows me a picture of himself with colleagues in Somalia.

IBRAHIM: Yousef Kanan - he died.

FADEL: How did he die?

IBRAHIM: This is Tim Adi. He died - Al-Shabaab.

FADEL: Those who weren't killed mostly fled, like he did.

IBRAHIM: We are so new still.

FADEL: Ibrahim shows me the studio where he will record his show in the tiny walk-up in this working-class district of Malta.

It's empty.

IBRAHIM: That's our office, and this is our studio so other studios empty, as you see. But we hope soon to get support.

FADEL: So right now, it's white walls and plastic chairs.

What Ibrahim does have is a little recorder, a small video camera and his laptop. He also has plans - first, to help African migrants in Malta, then to further his education and help Somalis in Somalia. Leila Fadel, NPR News, Malta. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.