The Malta Independent 20 March 2019, Wednesday

TMID Editorial: Those 49 - Bring them in and sort out the legal issues later

Wednesday, 9 January 2019, 11:01 Last update: about 3 months ago

If less than 50 migrants seeking safe haven in the European Union can cause such a fluster as they have done over the last couple of weeks, what, we must ask, would happen if the old days of the migratory phenomenon were to recur and we would be dealing with some 50,000?

It is a truly sad state of affairs when people seeking refuge on our continent are used as so many pawns in a game of political brinkmanship, but that is exactly what has been taking place since last summer.

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Malta has been at the forefront of attempts to strike some sort of European Union solidarity when it comes to migration through its piecemeal, ad hoc arrangements between the few willing EU countries willing to pitch in - of which, sadly, there has only been a handful.

It is understandable that Malta is somewhat reticent about opening up the proverbial floodgates, the move, however, is fast earning Malta a somewhat sinister reputation amongst those with a more humanitarian streak. 

But where diplomacy may not have been employed to its full with such strong arm tactics, the diplomacy negotiated by the Muscat government to effect burden sharing when no such empathy existed before must have been no mean feat.

But the only problem here is that these are far from ad hoc situations – they are a permanent, recurring situations that need to be addressed with permanent ‘responsibility-sharing’ measures on an EU-wide level because it must be understood that the migrants we are speaking of are not headed for Malta, Italy or Spain in particular – they are headed for the wider European Union where they believe they will be given refuge.

The aim is apparently to strongarm Malta’s EU peers into burden sharing but there is a point at which Malta, purportedly the most Christian country in Europe, or at least we like to think, has to say ‘enough is enough’ and provide the shelter being solicited.

But the time for soft diplomacy and gentle arm-twisting may now very well be over. 

The government now needs to make some real strongarm moves, instead of merely shaming countries that refuse to share what is, in reality, a European burden being borne by just a few member states, who are at serious odds even with each other.

Instead of this political brinksmanship and leaving people’s very lives and well being at risk, why not make a statement where it counts? Why not kick the EU where it counts?

That would be at EU level where Malta, and perhaps other frontier member states, can finally wield its veto power around the negotiating table and demand solidarity and burden sharing or no deal on other things.

It is perfectly understandable that there are manifold, multiple and multifaceted legalistic issues surrounding the disembarkation of these migrants but by all means let’s bring them in and sort out the legal issues afterward.

On a moral level, humanity and compassion will always trump legal considerations and Malta is in an ideal position to take such a lead, but we are failing to seize the opportunity because we are merely seeing it as a threat.

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