More than a soup kitchen
First we had Father Hilary Tagliaferro with his Love Kitchen at the Millenium Chapel in Paceville, then it was the turn of Patri Marcellino with his Soup Kitchen in Valletta, and now we have Martha’s Kitchen run by the Franciscan Welfare Association in Attard. What is going on? The reactions to these kitchens are as violent as are politics in Malta.
On one side, you get those who say there is no poverty in Malta and that those who go to these kitchens are just after a free meal. I even heard one man claim that some of the people concerned arrive there in their BMW. Now, in this world one cannot exclude anything, but I would venture to say that somebody driving a BMW is more likely to go for a meal at Aaron’s Kitchen rather than at Fr Marcellino’s.
On the other side, you get those who say that there is widespread poverty and that the cost of living is so high that nobody can survive. According to this narrative, the country is back in the post-Second World War days when people were at their tether and now, apart from living homeless, they are also going regularly hungry. The more one presses the people who make these claims for some solid evidence, the more they hunker down on their rather politically-motivated beliefs.
Like I say whenever I conduct a discussion with somebody, the truth is probably somewhere in between. I would never dream of accusing Fr Hilary, Fr Marcellino, and the Attard parish priest of opening a kitchen just to paint the government in a bad light. They are doing Christ’s work and deserve all the support they can get. Neither would I say that all those who go to these kitchens are leeches and louts. That’s just stripping the human persons who go to the kitchens of their dignity.
The fact is that, at the latest count, we still had 16.7% of the population, or some 85,800 people, at risk of poverty. The operative words here are “relative” and “risk”. This means that those thousands are poor relative to the median of the population – of course, some will be absolutely poor, others moderately so. It also means that they are at risk – of course, some have really become poor, others may be approaching that point.
The government rightly points to the fact that material and severe material deprivation have decreased substantially over the last decade. At the last count, there were 49,300 of the former and 25,400 of the latter. So one could say that the latter number shows those who are at the end of their tether, while the others are struggling.
Of course, to a socialist of the old school like me (but I assure you, no communist), every one of those people is one too much. I am realistic enough to think that whoever, of whatever colour he is, promises to eliminate poverty is not serious. But the problem exists, so government and civil society need to remain engaged in the battle against it.
A shameful crime
Human trafficking is one of the fastest-growing trans-national criminal acitivities of this century and worth an estimated €140 billion annually. It may seem like a distant problem or one that doesn’t touch us personally, but we are unwittingly affected by it.
Human trafficking is one of the world’s most shameful crimes, touching the lives of millions of people around the world and depriving them of their dignity. Women, men and children are deceived and exploited in every which way. While the best-known form of human trafficking is sexual exploitation, hundreds of thousands of victims are trafficked for other purposes: forced labour, domestic servitude, child begging, or the removal of their organs.
Today, some 27.6 million people around the globe are stripped of the freedom to choose how they live and work, according to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), and international human rights organisation Walk Free.
It seems that the profits to be made from human trafficking are so large that even people beyond suspicion will exploit it. We have all heard about the late Jeffrey Epstein and how he procured young girls for his friends. Earlier this year, Stagecoach co-founder, 80-year-old Dame Ann Gloag, and some members of her family were charged with human trafficking offences, though they deny the charges.
Here in Malta, Aġenzija Appoġġ identified 18 cases of possible human trafficking of foreigners into our country in 2021. This was 12 more cases than in 2020. The majority of the cases related to work, five to sex, and two who might have been brought to Malta for both reasons. The majority of the people involved were women from 13 countries, and mostly came from the Philippines.
Many experts believe the incidence of trafficking in Malta is larger and we have often been criticised by the United States for this. Moreover, the Council of Europe’s expert group on human trafficking, GRETA, has lamented the fact that the majority of human trafficking prosecutions in Malta have resulted in acquittals. GRETA has urged Malta to take measures to ensure that human trafficking cases are investigated proactively and lead to effective, proportionate, and dissuasive sanctions.
While the increase in funding for victim assistance and the setting up of a safe house for victims of trafficking are welcome, the government would do well to put some additional resources into this.
It’s a dog’s life
They’re called man’s best friend, but man fail them many times. I am referring to dogs, though other people might tell you that their best friend is a cat, a tortoise, or a parrot. Yet, cruelty to animals is very common. When we hear about animals being neglected, we’re often outraged. Some years back, the newspapers spent weeks reporting the uproar at the cats being crucified in Mosta. The story left many of us shocked and appalled.
Tens of billions of animals are killed in farms and slaughterhouses every year. Their deaths are sometimes truly horrific. Even when the animals aren’t killed, their treatment can be called into question. I remember visiting a farm near Auch, in France, where geese were force-fed to fatten them for foie gras made from their liver. The producers use the innocuous word ’gavage’ to describe the technique. After that day, it took me some years before I started flavouring again the rich, buttery, and delicate, taste of the pâté.
Animal lovers and animal welfare NGOs in Malta are currently highly concerned about the closure, last August, of the animal hospital at Ta’ Qali. To this has now been added the Gozo centre, whose manager has quit. Animal Welfare Commissioner Alison Bezzina has told the Press that the developments are “truly disheartening”.
Although there does not seem to have ever been a census of the animal population in Malta, some time ago the Minister responsible for Animal Rights said that there are some 85,000 dogs, 11,700 cats, and 4,400 horses in Malta. The more adventurous keep around 400 wild animals estimated to be held in captivity, some illegally. Apparently, there are 14 individuals who have 64 tigers, 20 lions, 11 leopards, and 24 pumas. Less common animals include 16 fallow deers, 10 pygmy goats, and primates such as the babarbary macaque (13), and green monkeys (23).
According to Statista, the pet food market in Malta was worth $6.52 million (€6 million) this year and has been growing annually at a compound rate of 2.2%. By 2028, Malta is expected to import a staggering 2.99 million kilos of pet food.
Apart from the money spent on pets, it seems that there are quite a few Maltese who treat their pets the way they might treat another person. I don’t know whether they are in the habit, like some people elsewhere, of sleeping with their pets, buying them Christmas gifts, or cooking them special meals. Nor do I know whether a high percentage of married women with pets say they get more emotional support from their pets than from their spouses – like the 40% who said so in a survey by The New York Times!
Main photo credit: Soup Kitchen OFM – Valletta