The Malta Independent 3 August 2020, Monday

The heart and mind in harmony

Charles Flores Sunday, 10 January 2016, 10:39 Last update: about 6 years ago

I was not surprised that the NGOs working with immigrants coming into the island have warmly welcomed the recently-announced new strategy regarding the arrival and treatment of migrants and refugees. They have worked long and hard among both the public and the authorities to highlight the need for this policy reform and, understandably, want their fair share of the merit.

After the armed forces, whose outstanding efforts sometimes against all odds must be recognised, they are probably the closest to those poor souls who risk their lives in seeking a new future for themselves and their families. There should be no doubt that all of the organisations involved are aware of the fact that they are providing these services against a not so subtle background of prejudice and laissez-faire, certainly the fruit of crass ignorance, from a fairly big chunk of the local population.

There is heart in the new strategy. To finally know that children and other vulnerable elements of the immigrant intake will no longer be automatically moved to a detention centre is a huge step in the right direction after many years of such drastic measures. You would have thought Christian Malta, the same Malta that was so vociferous against divorce, civil union and free IVF, would have acted more quickly than that. The fact that it had to be the government which, of course, introduced the above-mentioned social rights (divorce from a position of strength when still on the Opposition benches) to finally make it happen speaks volumes.

The heart plays a part also in making sure that migrants seeking humanitarian protection will no longer be kept in detention centres for more than nine months and will even be able to work in the country. It is a change that should hopefully lead to a better process of integration, regardless of race, colour and religion, but it will not, alas, stop the wagging tongues and sick minds on social and traditional media.

More details have emerged during the past few days, for example of people coming out with some infantile scare stories, among them one concerning the eating of ham in public schools where children from Muslim families attend! It seems there were some parents, in St Paul’s Bay, complaining that they were not permitted to give their children ham sandwiches for lunch following objections by Muslim parents, only to learn later that the ban on ham was merely a health issue and had nothing to do with religion.

Add to this episode other silly stories about the removal of crucifixes from classrooms (immediately denied), the George Cross from the national flag (hilarious, although quite a few Maltese Christians agree with that on historical grounds) and even the Maltese Cross from the tails of Air Malta planes (kerfuffleand there you have it, absurd paranoia.

However, it is also a relief to know there is mind as well to the new strategy. Security is not an issue that can be ignored any more. The Interior Ministry’s reception strategy for both those seeking asylum and irregular immigrants aims at creating a balance between humanitarian aspects and security requirements, which means that while the rights of immigrants and refugees are ensured, the country’s security is not endangered.

It really does not matter that much to me what the European Union thinks or expects on this issue, as long as the national government has rightly and finally felt the need to come up with this welcome strategy.

The heart and mind in harmony means more to me than rules and regulations, but I have to say that sometimes the mind does need a bit more attention. Why local Muslims in need of a police permit to hold prayers in public have been given the chance to do so in traffic-infested Msida and in front of the parish church of all places, is beyond comprehension. Like the festa fireworks at and around Msida during the summer, they can only create more traffic and further complicate the parking problems there, when they could have been asked to congregate somewhere else, i.e. in a less socially intimidating open space.

 

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How time changes nations

Still on the same topic of immigrants and refugees, it is incredible how much the passage of time changes even nations with contrasting histories.

While Germany announced a huge cash injection to help refugees, in Britain thousands of teenage migrants could be denied state benefits as soon as they turn 18 in the hope that they will be forced to leave the country. Seventy years or more ago, Britain was the haven for many refugees fleeing from war, persecution and hunger, while Germany was catching them and throwing them into concentration camps for medical experiments, gas-chamber “showers” and other horrific deeds against humanity.

What has led to this remarkable change? Why is the Bundestag today pledging extra billions of euros to help displaced people seeking asylum in Germany, where up to a million refugees arrived in 2015, at the very same time the UK’s House of Lords is reviewing an Immigration Bill that has the aim of stripping immigrants of their right to state support? What do these historical somersaults tell us? 

The UK Immigration Minister, James Brokenshire, has no qualms or conscience about it. He merely said: “We are saying that, at the point at which someone becomes an adult, they should be leaving the UK and not stay put within the UK”.

Yeah, go to a kinder society that was once so cruel? Leave the cruel society that was once so kind?

 

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An Aussie friend of Malta

 

The passing away at the age of 81 of Australian music mogul Robert Stigwood, who once managed the Bee Gees and Eric Clapton after having discovered Cream, cannot be overlooked, what with his having had such a warm attachment to our island.

Stigwood, who also produced Broadway stage hits such as Hair, Jesus Christ Superstar and The Who’s Tommy, as well as the disco phenomena Grease and Saturday Night Fever, was a regular visitor to these waters on his super yacht. Over the years he employed several talented Maltese crew members and always preferred to have the yacht repaired at the Manoel Island yacht yard.

He rightly belongs to that long list of international celebrities – from all walks of life and across the centuries – who chose to carve their names into the annals of Maltese history.

Thanks, mate.

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