Following a journey fraught with danger across the Mediterranean, migrants who make it alive expect a new life welcoming them at the shores of Europe. But the reality is far from that. Troubling statistics have been reported by the European Network Against Racism in their latest report titled Racism and Discrimination in Employment in Europe which was released on the IDCAD. The report highlights the structural discriminatory inequalities migrants and ethnic minorities face in a number of European countries. The report also uses a feminist intersectional lens to highlight the notably disadvantaged position of women of colour, as their migratory background intersects with gender discrimination in employment.

As no long term solutions have been implemented for the conflicts and economic instability in their home countries, migration is no longer a mere ‘crisis’, but our new reality. Human mobility will increasingly define the 21st century. This necessitates looking towards the future. The integration of migrants is multi levelled, but the first step lies in their economical integration into the labour force, to enable them to sustain themselves and their families. This piece will highlight the trends in the labour markets of Italy and Malta, the two main receptors of the influx of migrants from the North African shores.


Labour Market Participation

In Italy, a total of 3,714,137 third country nationals were recorded in 2017. The current legal framework does not protect the rights of foreign workers to equal opportunities and is one of the causes for their vulnerability to discrimination and exploitation in the labour market. Although no comprehensive data is recorded, the available numbers show a clear segregation of the labour market in Italy. Migrant workers are overrepresented in the lower sectors of the hierarchy despite a majority being overqualified.

As to Malta, 25,000 EU nationals, and 9,042 third country nationals (of which 3,445 female and 5,597 male) were working in Malta at the end of September 2016. A 2016 survey of female asylum seekers found that 85.7% of the surveyed women who came from Syria, Libya, Eritrea and Somalia were unemployed. The report further adds that “women reported that discrimination was the main obstacle to employment (78.6%)”. Gender dynamics interplay with nationality in a segregated labour market.

We must also bear in mind that these numbers do not include third country nationals who, owing to delays in the issuance of working permits, have been forced to seek jobs in the informal labour market. This is most prevalent in Italy, with a striking overrepresentation of men in the informal market. But also significantly, the report draws attention to women of colour, both migrants and nationals, in domestic work. Domestic work is described as the point where “the intersectionality of race, gender, class and nationality; and the matrix of oppression is most visible”, because “not only is domestic work traditionally seen as gendered work but also class and the stereotypes of nationality come into full effect with migration forces creating ever deepening lines of stratification, discrimination and exploitation.”


Racial Discrimination

Despite the lack of comprehensive data on racial discrimination in the Italian labour market, some insight may be gathered from the 2,652 reports of discrimination handled by the Anti-discrimination National Body (UNAR) in 2016. Of those reports, 69% concerned manifestations of ethnic and racial discrimination.

While in Malta, the 2015 Eurobarometer on Discrimination concluded that “71% of the Maltese respondents thought that discrimination on the basis of ethnic origin was widespread”. An additional 48% noted that migrants’ ethnic origin put them at a disadvantage.

A survey of immigrants in Malta, conducted by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, found that 33% of Sub-Saharan African immigrants feel discriminated against on the basis of their skin colour. Of these respondents, 20% declared having experienced discrimination on the basis of ethnicity or background when looking for work. Another 15% declared having experienced discrimination in the workplace.



In Italy, an estimate of 100,000 workers have been affected by severe forms of labour exploitation. Foreign workers are reported to face severe exploitation and inhuman conditions, “they work in conditions of isolation and marginality, very poor housing and health hazards, with wages under the poverty line and 40% lower than those of Italians”.


Wage Gap

Third country nationals in Italy earn on average 25.2% less than native workers. This wage gap widens when gender and ethnicity intersect, “third country women workers earn just over 1,000 Euro, 28.1% less than their Italian counterparts”

According to the 2014 report conducted by the Government Department of Industrial Relations in Malta, 88.3% of 101 Sub-Saharan African workers surveyed, recorded that their wage was lower than that paid to Maltese employees, and half of the Middle Eastern and North African workers believed that their wage was lower than that paid to Maltese workers.



These reactionist trends to migration serve to highlight preexisting institutionalized racism in these countries. The xenophobic and nationalistic anti-immigration naritives are only a reflection of this reality. The time has come for more comprehensive conversations about not only migration but also racial discrimination, equal opportunities and sexism in general.

As Brunson McKinley, Director-General, International Organization of Migration (IOM) stated, “migration is here to stay and is indeed an integral feature of modern life”. This new reality requires a long-term vision as well as policies aimed at promoting integration, combatting discrimination and pushing for inclusion without the expectation of assimilation.