The Malta Independent 25 June 2019, Tuesday

TMID Editorial: Stranded migrants - Let’s practice true solidarity

Friday, 4 January 2019, 10:49 Last update: about 7 months ago

While many of us were enjoying a hearty Christmas meal last week, dozens of people were huddled together on an NGO rescue vessel, hoping that someone would give them permission to land in a safe port.

And while many of us were enjoying another grand meal on New Year’s Day this week, the same group of people were still huddled on the same boat, eagerly waiting for developments.

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A few miles away, another group of people were in a very similar situation.

The migrants aboard the Sea Watch 3 were rescued on 22 December, almost two full weeks ago. The migrants on board the other vessel, the Professor Albrecht Penck, have been stranded at sea since 29 December.

Repeated calls by the NGOs themselves, as well as by European academics, the Maltese Bishops and several NGOs have so far fallen on deaf ears.

It was only after the NGOs appealed for help, in view of the worsening meteorological conditions, that the boats were allowed to move closer to Malta to shelter from the bigger waves. They are still several miles out, and the weather conditions there are not particularly pleasant.

Home Affairs Minister Michael Farrugia on Wednesday tweeted that the migrants had been saved close to Libya, and that Malta was not legally responsible for the rescue or the rescued migrants.

This has never been in dispute. It was stated right from the beginning that the migrants were not in Malta’s SAR zone, or of any other European country for that matter. But this goes beyond politics and laws. This is about humanity. It is about men, women and children who have been at sea for almost two weeks, with no one offering to give them shelter.

The unbelievable thing is that, despite the miserable situation they find themselves in, they are regarded by many in Malta as invaders, unwanted, uninvited.

And it’s not just them – it’s the people risking their lives to save them as well.

These volunteers have spent part of the summer (most of their boats were impounded for the better part of it) as well as the Christmas period practicing true altruism by saving lives at sea. And what do they get in return? Threats, insults and allegations that they are running some profit-making human trafficking business.

While we pat ourselves on the back and say how generous we are for donating millions to l-Istrina and id-Dar tal-Providenza there are many among us who would gladly see these people drown or, at the very least, be sent to Libya or other unsafe countries.

If we were reliving the migrant influx of a decade ago it would be easier to comprehend this fear and hatred towards migrants, but the situation has not been like that for many years now. Yet the hatred remains. The comments boards and social media are ablaze with talk of invasion and pushback. It seems that our compassion and generosity are only practiced towards our own. But strangers and foreigners are not worthy of our solidarity. We don’t know them and they can drown, for all we care.

In the latest development in this latest migrant saga, the Netherlands announced on Wednesday it was prepared to welcome some of the migrants if other countries agreed to do the same.

By the time this editorial is printed, the situation might have changed. More countries might pitch in and Malta might allow them to dock until a resettlement agreement is reached.  We truly hope that this happens.

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