‘In Maltese, you have a saying which goes “kulħadd tad-demm u l-laħam” meaning we are all flesh and blood,’ 25-year-old Rawia Ben Khayal told Newsbook.com.mt during an interview.
We sat down with Rawia and spoke about her experiences and life here in Malta. She initially came here as a foreign student learning English for three months, since then, eight years have passed and she bagged her undergraduate degree and masters. Her mother, brother and sister are also living here, and have continued their studies in Malta.
As an Arab and Muslim woman living in Malta, Rawia highlighted that from her personal experience she did not encounter any racism directed towards her during her time in Malta. She has however seen several online. While in the past she would engage, nowadays she refuses to take part in the ‘bubble’.
Rawia insists on focusing on the positive – ‘we can connect with others through culture, art, food and music’ she reflects, rhetorically asking ‘why should it matter where one is coming from?’ She stressed that one should not focus on those things which divide us but should seek what connects us.
“If everyone makes an effort, we would live happily,” she remarked.
She also cites a verse from the Qur’an to further explain, adding that different religions would have similar teachings, she adds that one should try and do good.
‘I kept my beliefs and didn’t have to change. I participate in this society, too.’
As an outsider, she feels that one has to make an effort to integrate and socialise, adding that it was good to learn a few words in the language, and about the country’s culture and food.
Malta as a ‘melting pot’
Having lived in Austria for the first six years of her life, Rawia then returned to Libya before coming to Malta. Asked where she feels home is, she replied that it was a ‘tough’ question. She explained that Libya is the country from where she originated and that it is her very ‘first’ home. However, living in Malta has allowed her to develop and mature.
“Malta is a second home for me, and it really feels like home,” she told this newsroom.
Speaking about her experience, she explained that in Malta she had the opportunity to meet people from different cultures and countries. She travelled to new countries because of the new friendships made.
“I’ve been exposed to new languages, cultures, food and opportunities,” she said.
At present, she is also working at the University of Malta. She explained that her colleagues were very welcoming.
A difficulty which non-EU citizens seem to constantly face is that with the banks.
Rawia’s family experienced sudden account closures without prior notification. Explaining her ordeal to this newsroom, Rawia recalled how during the last week of December her account was suddenly closed. She had to wait two months and go through an appeal before she gained access to her account. Her family members remain without an account.
Upon winning the appeal, Rawia felt as though she was ‘graduating’. She highlights that this was a very stressful situation, noting that banks in Libya were not operating, in addition to the suspension of service by money transfer companies.
She also spoke about the uncertainty and anxiety one faces when applying or renewing their residency permit.
“Every year there is the uncertainty of not getting a renewal,” Rawia said, as she recalled the long queues outside Identity Malta, the paperwork and the bureaucracy.
Watch the full interview:
Filming and editing: Miguela Xuereb