The Malta Independent 30 May 2020, Saturday

TMIS Editorial - Migration: When indifference becomes acceptable

Sunday, 17 May 2020, 08:40 Last update: about 12 days ago

Over a hundred and seventy souls are being kept on two ‘pleasure boats’ anchored 13 miles off the Maltese coast, and no one seems to be batting an eyelid.

The government, which has closed the ports to migrants, is rightly calling on the EU to play ball and for other Member States to carry their share of this burden, but it seems that this ‘temporary’ solution, which is turning out to be somewhat permanent, has been deemed to be acceptable.

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The migrants on board the two chartered Captain Morgan vessels had already risked life and limb by crossing the deadly Mediterranean Sea and. After days of agony in overcrowded dinghies, they were placed on two red-coloured ships designed to ferry tourists to Comino or take them on a trip around the Maltese Islands.

But there is nothing pleasurable about the situation they find themselves in. Some of them have been stuck out at sea for over two weeks now. The boats are anchored at Hurd’s Bank, a bunkering area for container ships and oil tankers, and the situation out there must be anything but ideal, especially with the strong winds that hit the area over the past few days and now the heat, with temperatures rising with every passing day.

While we are told that the boats have been loaded with food and medical supplies, the situation must be horrible for those on board, for a number of reasons. Apart from the cramped conditions, the hard steel floors and the heat and wind, they have also been locked up on what some have described as ‘prison ships’, with no idea when they will be allowed to step on land again. They are at the mercy of Europe which is, once again, failing to practice the solidarity it speaks so fondly of.

The Captain Morgan vessels are anchored farther out than the eye can see. Out of sight, out of mind, the expression goes. And this is truly the case, for we seem to have forgotten them.

The fact that the government is paying €3,000 a day for each boat seems to have caused more controversy than the fact that 170 people are being rejected by every country in Europe. The fact that Captain Morgan belongs to one of the most powerful business families in Malta gets more headlines than the fact that people who risked their lives in search of a better future are locked up on floating prisons. Where is the humanity?

We have been through similar situations before. Early last year, a group of rescued migrants spent almost two weeks bobbing up and down on a migrant rescue vessel that was initially denied entry into Malta. Back then, there was no pandemic, and people seemed to be more sympathetic to the plight of the migrants on board.

The Malta Independent, along with other newsrooms, had been invited on board to witness the conditions at sea. We had seen how, although the NGOs were doing their utmost to provide the best possible care to those on board, and were daily supplying the migrants with water, fresh food and medical care, the situation on board a vessel, especially for someone who is not used to such conditions, can get desperate.

The situation for those on board the Captain Morgan vessels cannot be that different. No one should be kept at sea for so long, but it seems that the Covid-19 pandemic has changed our outlook on things.

It has been said that this pandemic, which has forced many of us to work from home, has helped us rediscover our “true priorities and values”, such as our love for family, generosity and altruism. But this does not apply to these two groups of people who have been stuck between sea and sky for more than two weeks. It seems that the fear of the virus has led us to forget our values of compassion and empathy, at least when it comes to these human beings stuck on these ships.

The government has tried to play a political game in hopes of getting other Member States to feel shame and act. But the strategy has failed. While Malta has done more than its fair share and can never be expected to carry the burden of migration alone, people should never be used as pawns in a political game.

According to reports, only Portugal answered Malta’s call, even if it has only offered to take six migrants out of 170. The rest of Europe has forgotten us.

In the meantime, we are talking about re-launching tourism and possibly operating flights to nine countries. If the situation has improved so much that we can start going on holiday again, and if the Covid-19 crisis in Malta is truly under control, then we should also be in a position to practice some humanity and allow these people in.

 

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