Deja – vu
In July, I have written about a man named Mirko. I have met him outside a shopping center, quote close to my office. He had lost an arm in a car crash and was asking passers -by for donations. We had spoken on several occasions, until he was arrested by police and possibly deported. Begging is illegal in Malta. Mirko was Romanian by citizenship but belonged to a minority known as Roma (also referred to as Gypsy), he travelled the Europe to support his family of five. You can see the post below:
I often thought what have happened to Mirko, if he was safe and reunited with his family. But to be very honest, I thought that his story was off my radar for ever.
I was wrong. Mirko`s story returned to me in a strange twist of deja-vu and now it is much, much different. You see, to put it bluntly, Mirko was lying.
Fast forward to November 30, 2012. Its been raining since morning, temperature is just above 10 degrees, cold wind makes you dream of a cup of hot chocolate and a warm blanket. Another lunch break, the same street corner, the same shopping complex. People rushed by doing late shopping. Nobody noticed a man sitting with his trousers rolled up and bare feet. Or rather what were once human feet. A paper cup was held tightly in his hand.
I rushed towards him, within minutes I was kneeling next to him trying to talk to him. He wasn’t Mirko, but there were so many similarities I could barely control myself. He spoke Romanian, very limited Italian and had no knowledge of English. He was also a Roma. He sat in the same place, silently showing his wounded body and asking for donations into a paper cup.
He was thin, hungry, shaking with cold, having just trousers and a shirt and a small polar jacket on. He had no shoes, ho socks; there were no crutches anywhere near him and judging from his condition, he could barely walk. He said his name was Vlad, other that that he only replied “Si” to my every question. When I asked him where he was staying he just uttered “casa”. The use of Italian words was again, similar to Mirko.
I have brought him food and tea and took a photo of him despite his weak protests. As you can see, it is slightly moved, because I have been shaking with rage. This is not uncommon in mainland Europe for organized groups to bring disabled people from one country to another and to force them to beg. Roma are known to be involved in such a scheme, from both ends: as the profit makers and as the victims. Seeing Vlad, I have understood why Mirko was really in Malta for. His whole story being just a cover up.
Vlad was scared, traumatized, constantly looking around himself as if he was looking for somebody. I would not take a photo of him in other circumstances, but considered it of importance. I wanted to document his plight, the situation he was in, his bare feet in the cold.
I left him to enjoy his hot drink and cam back 30 minutes later. A police car was there and Vlad was being packed into the car, arrested. He looked through the window and gave me a look of pure hatred. He thought I was the one who called the police. I went down on my hands and knees and begged police to give him protection and psychological help. I told them about Mirko, asked them to wait for those who put Vlad on the street to come. After all Vlad was just a pawn and those who profited from it all were somewhere in the area. They had done the same to Mirko back in July; they would surely do it in the future.
Police told me they knew about Mirko and just drove away. They however promised they would call Romanian consulate.
Every year thousands people share the fate of Vlad and Mirko.
The Trafficking Protocol defines human trafficking as:
“the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.”
I do not like recent news at all. I am unsure if this is related but something tells me (call it a hunch) that we are here looking at the same story. We had again Romanian Roma appearing on the streets in the same area Gzira – Msida – Sliema – St Julians. But this time around people begging are not disabled. They are women. And small kids are involved.
Just in spite of two days:
On February 23, 2013 a woman was arrested in Gzira for defrauding several shops. She carried a small baby with her. A photo of her was circulated on Facebook in the last few days.
On February 22, 2013, two other Roma have been arraigned in court for begging outside of Mother Dei hospital. They had flyers with them in broken English stating they were collecting money for a sick child.
I am not police so I may be wrong. But I have been raised in a country that seen similiar tactics before. And the patterns as worrying – speaking as a risk analyst – every 2-3 months we have Romanian Roma appearing in the streets of the same area (Gzira-Msida-Sliema-St. Julians are in a straight line along a very busy seaside promenade frequented by tourists and locals alike), they also appear in places that are known to be full of people – Valletta in the morning or Mater Dei hospital. Thing is the people who come they are from outside, they speak a bit of Italian and have no command of English (at least Mirco and Vlad shared that trait). Judging from the articles the women from outside Mather Dei had no command of English either. If they are new to the island, how are they able to know the busiest spots? Where do they stay and why they always frequent the same areas? Why are they always the most vulnerable: disabled, women with small children? How are they managing to survive here if they don’t know the language and need help?
Who is taking care of them? Why are they always Romanian Roma and not Roma from other European countries?
Who, what, where, when, why and how?
I have seen the tactics before. Disabled people, the wrong change trick, collecting money for operation of a child – you can call them traditional ways to raise money. Methods tested over many countries, over many years. The issue here is – people at their weakest are used and trained to do it, they are transported to places that are not yet accustomed with these tactics.
As I said, I may be wrong and I will stand happily corrected. But I believe that somewhere out there, there is someone or a group of people who benefit from this procedure now for months (at least from July last year when Mirko first came). And they will not stop until apprehended.