The Malta Independent 25 October 2020, Sunday

Migration wars

Noel Grima Sunday, 24 June 2018, 10:45 Last update: about 3 years ago

The attractions of the World Cup have not dampened interest and controversy about what has sprouted all over the world with regard to migration flows.

In the USA, Trump has been throwing underage would-be migrants into holding centres and cages, much to the amazement of many Americans – not least the First Lady.

In Europe, the focus is on the new Italian administration and its determination to stop the migrant flow which, in past years, has led to hundreds of thousands turning entire areas into no-go zones and thousands of migrants into the mercy of Mafia dons and other criminal organisations.

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Here in Malta we have found ourselves at the receiving end of barbed and violent statements by Italian ministers, especially Matteo Salvini, dictating what Malta must do to help Italy out.

Salvini’s tweets focused on Malta with a vengeance: the second migrant ship was now in Malta’s SAR region and thus the 220 migrants on board a ship that cannot take that number are Malta’s responsibility. There will be others: a tanker with migrants is anchored off Pozzallo and others are coming. And Salvini himself revealed that up to four migrant rescue ships are anchored in Malta’s Grand Harbour.

The Italians have now told the migrant NGOs to call Tripoli, not Italy: Italian ports are now closed to migrants.

A humanitarian crisis of atomic dimensions is now looming, especially if the migrants keep coming. This week’s European Council had already been declared to be about the migration problem. It looks as if it will be the setting of an almighty clash between EU Member States. The Central European states are adamant they will not take in migrants. So is Austria, the next EU president. Relations between Italy and France are now at their worst, despite Prime Minister Conte’s visit to President Macron. Spain, under the new minority Socialist government, is trying to earn Brownie points but how long can it afford to do so?

And then there is Italy and Malta. Malta is still smarting under the impact of the vituperative words uttered by Italian ministers, not just Salvini, with regard to Malta. The Maltese government has been extraordinarily patient and diplomatic in its response. Malta will continue to obey international laws, as it always has done. The Lifeline may be in Malta’s SAR but it has not, so far, asked for Malta’s assistance.

The verbal onslaught by Italian ministers has been out of this world. The other deputy premier, di Maio, pointed at the Interconnector between Sicily and Malta and complained that while Malta refuses to take in migrants, Italy gives Malta electricity, forgetting that Malta pays for the electricity it gets and that there is no link between the two.

The overall situation is very grave and dangerous. With Libya being the lawless country it is, and with migrant trails entering from whichever points of the border they like, and the migration entrepreneurs enjoying full freedom, the situation is doomed to persist and may get even worse. While Malta may escape getting a boatload of migrants now, it may not escape this predicament forever.

It does not seem that the solution now being proposed at the conclusion of this week’s EU Council – to create holding camps in non-EU countries such as Tunisia and Albania – will work. Or at least I cannot see it working.

It is in Malta’s interest, as I see it, to stick with its present policy and meanwhile, in the expectation of a boatload or two of migrants, to look closely at those who –legally or not – are present in Malta and examine if their overall behaviour warrants their staying here. I am sure there must be some (or many) who have no right to stay in Malta and/or whose behaviour does not warrant their doing so.

There is a limit as to how many people Malta can take, and how many can the social infrastructure of the country support. The recent remarks about Malta becoming a cosmopolis with a mixed population now come home with a vengeance, removing one clear reason to plea that we cannot take on any more.

 

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