Mpowered. By Women for Women: Dr. Maria Pisani

Mpowered. By Women for Women: Dr. Maria Pisani

Meet Dr Maria Pisani– An incredible outspoken woman well-known and synonymous with migration and social justice.



Dr Maria Pisani is a senior lecturer at the University of Malta within Youth and Community Studies and the Faculty of Social Wellbeing. She was also Head of Office for the International Organisation for Migration and dealt with projects related to refugee resettlement and human trafficking, amongst others. Maria is also co-founder and director of Integra Foundation which was set up in 2005 with the aim of facilitating minority groups in Malta, particularly refugees and asylum seekers.

So, how did Maria’s journey start and how did she become so passionate about these issues?

‘I was brought up in the UK with Maltese parents and I always felt a bit different. From a very young age, I showed an interest in politics and minority issues. I used to fight with my parents to stay up late to watch the news while others my age wanted to watch the latest movies. I came to Malta at the age of sixteens. I went to the University as a mature student and by then I already had three children. I loved the course from day 1 and it threw me straight into social issues. I started working with Seqda and while I was there, Sedqa formed part of Appogg, and I requested a transfer. My first job with Appogg was running the open centre in Hal Far. I wanted to work with refugees, but I was very ignorant on the topic at first. We were all learning as we went along. They were very different times in Malta and the country was going through a dramatic change.’

It is common knowledge that some migrants are accepted while others, like migrants from Africa and the Middle East, aren’t so easily welcome. Why is this the case?

‘Migration like everything else is not only gendered but also racialised. For example, while the response to the refugee crisis in Ukraine is amazing and I celebrate what we are doing, and this is how it should be, I also struggle with it big time. We did not see the same response to asylum seekers and refugee. We are only asking that people have the same rights that we take for granted on an everyday basis. We can go anywhere in the world with our passports. These people are forced to flee their home because their home is no longer safe. They should be at the front of the queue with a golden passport. It is a fundamental human right. Unfortunately, today, it is harder for these people who are fleeing to be able to travel in a safe and legal way. They are illegalised and forced to travel illegally. We are witnessing the militarisation of our borders and preventing refugees to come in. You have to factor in race because this is not happening with the Ukrainians.’

Maria also touches upon the fact that persons of colour have always been seen as inferior to us and constructed as a threat and that the term illegal immigrant, over the years, became synonymous with a black person. Although the journey of fleeing their country is incredibly risky for them, they are still seen by many people as persons who will steal our jobs and that they’re here for a free ride.

‘It’s funny because when I was in the refugee camp in Kenya, the young people were watching Money Heist. My partner called me, and he was watching the same series. That’s globalisation. So, the young have a certain idea of what Europe is because they can see it. Like any other young person, they want a better life. They are seeing these images and they will look for an opportunity to leave. A small minority manages to leave but they are forced to travel through illegal routes.’

Maria claims that this small minority is predominately men. However, women manage to leave too, and the journey is a very risky one for them.

‘For a woman, it is a dangerous journey. During my studies, my primary focus was on young women, and they are faced with dangers on a day-to-day basis. 13% of women manage to leave camp. However, although they are traumatised, this does not define them. They are resilient, strong, and hopeful. They have been through so much.’

Maria explains a situation that most people are not aware of. These refugees are placed in detention for months on end, including children under the age of 18 and this has become so normalised.

‘Most people do not know of this detention. We keep refugees contained in horrible circumstances and, I believe, that is where they break. Some of them have their life on hold for three years, they await whether they can stay in Malta or not. This drains them. These policies are dehumanising.’

Maria believes that the average person is a decent person and we’re able to recognise when something is fair and when it isn’t.

‘I have to believe this because, if I don’t, I won’t be able to do the things that I do. There are others who are doing so much more than me. The majority of people do not want to see people drown and children and pregnant locked up. The average person in the street does not understand what is going on. These people are not a threat – the only difference between Ukrainians is that we facilitated the process for them to be able to travel across borders, and rightly so, and the others are being denied that possibility. The other difference is racialisation – the idea of a scary black man but innocent white man.’

Maria’s last comment is for everyone, who is reading this blog and listening to this podcast, to Google about the ‘El Hiblu 3’ injustice; three African teenagers accused of terrorism. They were among a group of migrants who fled Libya on a rubber boat on the 26th of March 2019. They are still in prison, and it is a very stressful situation. Learn about the injustice and just say No!

Thank you, Maria for bringing these very important issues to light. Keep on doing the amazing work that you’re doing for our community!