A rise in right-wing extremism, alarmist and sensationalist language used by politicians and the media and a lack of effort in combating racism in Maltese society were highlighted this week in the European Network Against Racism (ENAR) shadow report on Malta.
These factors, the report finds, have contributed to 2005 being characterised as a year in what had been latent racism in Maltese society came into the open, with far-right groups becoming more visible, organised and taking to the streets.
“A rise of right-wing extremism, as well as other forms of nationalism, is evident in a number of countries, such as Denmark, Sweden, Germany, Latvia, Malta and Slovak Republic,” the ENAR noted.
France was singled out for Islamophobia and other victims of racism in the 20 countries where the views of non-governmental organisations were gathered, were Roma and Jewish communities.
In Malta, the brunt of racist sentiment was borne by irregular migrants living in detention or open centres and those who have been given humanitarian protection status.
The ENAR rapporteur for Malta, Christian Attard, who consulted with numerous local NGOs when drawing up the report, described language employed by some of the country’s leaders and certain sections of the media when addressing issues related to irregular migration as “alarmist and sensational”.
This has contributed to a state of affairs in which the public is under a number of misconceptions as to the origin of most migrants and the reasons why they are in Malta.
The report points out, “ When riots or protests take place it is very easy for the public at large to perceive the detainees as ‘ungrateful’ or as criminals.
“One particular myth is that all refugees in Malta fled their country to escape poverty. Consequently, when they see some refugees, or sometimes even tourists who are black, wearing brand clothes or in possession of mobile phones, they resent this fact and conclude that these individuals must have abused Maltese asylum procedures in order to be allowed to stay in Malta.”
In this respect, the report noted that the importance the government has given to tackling irregular migration has not been complemented by adequate measures to combat racism and discrimination and increasing immigrant’s integration into society.
“With respect to government involvement in awareness raising, NGOs lament that often this is limited to mere public pronouncements,” the report stated.
“Ministers and leading politicians were indeed reported to have said that racism has no place in Maltese society, but this hardly had the effect of bringing about societal change, and in many cases was obscured by the more alarmist tone of political discourse surrounding illegal immigration.”
The media’s insistence on access to detention centres and the government’s continued refusal, with one exception this year, were also raised. The report called for such access to be granted in the interest of raising awareness and correcting misconceptions.
The media also came in for criticism to sensationalist articles appearing throughout the year in “a supposedly left-leaning newspaper owned by the biggest trade union in Malta”.
The facts that an equality body with a mandate to deal with racial discrimination and that the EU’s Race Directive has only been implemented with respect to employment also came in for criticism.
The full report dealing with multiple issues from housing and education to racist crime and political and legislative developments can be found on: