The Malta Independent 22 September 2021, Wednesday

Immigration: Labour Gets it wrong

Malta Independent Wednesday, 13 April 2011, 00:00 Last update: about 10 years ago

As soon as the Labour leader made his remarks about putting the national interest first in terms of asylum seekers rescued at sea, the Labour Party’s public relations department began to tone down the language.

On Sunday, the Labour leader spoke about the issue in which boat people picked up by the AFM were refused access to Lampedusa, being the closest safe port of call. He had said that the Italians had put national interest first and that the French had done the same in tightening border controls.

He asked if the Malta Government was happy that Germany was going to take 100 people from Malta, adding that to him, this was not satisfactory. He urged the government to take a harsher stand and to put the national interest first.

One wonders exactly what Dr Muscat meant. We will give the benefit of the doubt; surely he does not believe that we can just let people drown at sea, just because the Italians would not do anything about it.

Perhaps what Dr Muscat meant was that the AFM should have pressed on into Lampedusa despite the refusal to dock by the Italian authorities. Perhaps he meant that the AFM should have just idled outside Lampedusa while political pressure was exerted. Perhaps he only meant that we should have taken the course of action we did, but pile far more criticism on the Italian government.

As it stands, we still do not know. Dr Muscat was quizzed about his remarks, and the replies given downplayed his statements on Sunday. The PL’s information section said that the PL respects human life and that dignity comes above all else. It also said that anyone trying to twist the remarks out of context was being deceitful. Yet through all this, the PL still does not tell us what Dr Muscat meant the other day.

In all likelihood, it was one of those up in the air statements. All politicians are prone to a gaffe or two – just look at Cameron in Pakistan. But the PL really needs to clear this up. The general impression doing the rounds is one of raised eyebrows. Everyone is asking the same question: What did Joseph Muscat mean? The Labour Party has the duty to answer and Joseph Muscat should seriously think before making statements of the sort. He clearly believes that he was misinterpreted, but in making such a statement, he could hardly expect better.

Joseph Muscat should go on the record and explain what he meant and put forward proposals of how exactly Malta should go about fulfilling human rights obligations while at the same time safeguarding the national interest. This one is not going to go away and unless the Labour Party deals with it now, it might yet come back to haunt him. Of course, matters could swing the other way. If the immigration problem continues to escalate in the run-up to the election – now only two years away – then it could actually bag votes.

Whatever the case may be, the Labour leader ought to be more measured in the way he approaches matters. We reiterate our belief that he did not mean boat people should be left to their own devices. But we also reiterate that such sweeping statements are not in keeping with mature politics. An explanation is owed.

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