The Malta Independent 7 August 2020, Friday

TMIS Editorial - Migration: A complex situation that will not be solved by stupid comments

Sunday, 12 April 2020, 11:30 Last update: about 5 months ago

The migration issue has always been a topic of hot debate in Malta and the current Covid-19 pandemic has only served to make the situation worse while heightening racist feelings.

We have already seen obscene comments posted on the social media with regard to the migrants who have been placed under quarantine at the Hal Far open centre, and those being held in detention.

Disgusting comments have also been levelled at the migrants rescued from the jaws of death and brought to Malta this week, with some social media cowboys suggesting that they should have been shot or left to drown instead.

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Racism has always been rampant in Malta and will likely not be eradicated any time soon. This is why politicians and other public figures need to show some responsibility and refrain from promoting such views, because they will only encourage more of this hatred towards ‘outsiders.’

We are referring here to the comments made by Alfred Grixti, the head of the social welfare agency, who suggested in a Facebook comment thread that NGO rescue vessels should be impounded and scuttled.

Now, his comments were twisted and taken out of context by certain sections of the media and bloggers – Grixti did not say that the boats should be sunk with the migrants aboard – but his statements were still completely uncalled for, especially given his role as head of the head of the FSWS – solidarity indeed!

We cannot fail to note that, by the time this editorial was written, neither the minister responsible for the FSWS, Michael Falzon, nor the government as a whole had condemned or disassociated themselves from Grixti’s comments. They should do so without further ado.

We believe that the government has few options available to it at this very delicate time – it has made it clear to both the EU and Libya that our ports are closed to NGO vessels and that Malta cannot guarantee that it will be able to affect sea rescues.

While this point can be debated and different arguments can be put forward, there is no need for people to fan the flames of racism.

A decision has been taken and, whether we agree with it or not, people who are trying to cross over to Europe in search of a better life are now facing a much more dangerous journey. Up until a few months ago, few countries were willing to accept them, and Malta and Italy have always had to bear the brunt of migration, but now even these last two countries have shut their ports as they battle to stop, or at least slow down the spread of Covid-19.

Prime Minister Robert Abela explained on Friday that all police and military resources have been deployed to fight the spread of the Coronavirus and that Malta cannot afford, at this delicate juncture, to compromise on public safety.

While he said that the Armed Forces of Malta might not have the resources to perform rescues at sea, he did not completely shut the door either.

We truly hope that, should there be cases where the lives of people are in imminent danger, we will do our part like we have always done and do all we can to avoid tragedy.

But we must also be realistic. Our refugee centres have always been overcrowded, and that situation has been made worse by the state of quarantine that has been imposed on the Hal Far open centre.

At a time when all air travel has been suspended to avoid the importation of more cases of Covid-19, opening our ports to boats carrying migrants from Northern Africa, where infection control is practically non-existent, could jeopardise the efforts that are being taken locally to stop, or at least slow down, the spread of the virus.

So yes, public safety is of paramount importance but, at the same time, we cannot and must not let people drown.

This is where the European Union and Libya come in.

Libya cannot keep closing an eye to the human trafficking trade originating from its own shores. It has always been extremely dangerous for migrants to cross the Mediterranean on rickety boats, and the danger has now multiplied.

Rather than let migrants embark on a deathly journey, Libya must provide these people with adequate shelter and ensure that they are not only safe from persecution and abuse but also from exposure to the virus.

The EU has a vital role to play here, because Libya has hardly been cooperative in the past. If Europe is really willing to help its Member States beat the Coronavirus crisis, it must put more pressure on countries like Libya while also helping countries like Malta prepare for any eventual disembarkations, because it is very likely that more people will need rescuing, and they will need somewhere to stay.

It must also push for a multi-national naval and coast guard effort, rather than leaving countries like Malta and Italy fend for themselves, especially at a time when military forces have joined the battle on the Coronavirus front.

European solidary with regard to migration has never been needed more.

 

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