The Malta Independent 22 October 2020, Thursday

Reality check

Charles Flores Sunday, 20 September 2020, 10:28 Last update: about 2 months ago

Prime Minister Robert Abela could not have been nearer the target on the issue of migration and the huge dilemma facing the European Union. His strong criticism of the boat-by-boat system being used “to cope” with the influx of migrant flotillas from across the water in North Africa must have hit home. At least it did in the Corsican city of Ajaccio the other week during the Med7 Summit of seven understandably disgruntled, highly strung EU southern states.


It also got the plaudits here where people, not the racist few but the seriously concerned, feel the EU has been dilly-dallying for far too long over the issue, leaving both desperate immigrants and European citizens in a socio-economic muddle that grows murkier by the day. That the EU needs to switch from nice words of solidarity to drastic action has become a cruel cliché, while throwing money at the problem has only resulted in NGOs and human traffickers enriching themselves, also by the day.

This is a reality check for the EU. Events on the Greek island of Lesbos have shown that the point of sheer anguish has, some would say belatedly, been reached. Immigrants don’t want to go to a huge, new campsite after the horrendous fire allegedly started by a group from within the same immigrant community. Locals have had enough and just cannot take it any more, watching a once thriving tourism spot metamorphosing into a living hell. Their authorities have not only lost hope, they have also almost become oblivious to the anger, with their security personnel firing tear gas at the protesting immigrants.

In this scenario, Malta’s recently adopted position against taking in NGO boatloads of illegal immigrants is vindicated. The boat-by-boat strategy may have worked for a very short time, but flotillas need to be dealt with differently. The case of the tanker flying the Danish flag insisting it was allowed into a Maltese port to disembark 27 immigrants rescued in Tunisian waters was yet another example of how NOT to tackle the crisis. The Danish authorities were quick to acknowledge Malta’s stand. That they finally ended up disembarking in Sicily is for the Italians to explain.

Hardly had that story been brought to an end, when an Open Arms vessel with 273 illegal immigrants on board was also insisting to be allowed to enter a Maltese port, a request the Maltese authorities adamantly turned down. This was yet another immediate example of the fallacious boat-by-boat strategy that is obviously not working and actually digging a hole inside the hole. Again, that the vessel ended up disembarking in Sicily is for the Italians to decipher for they may have reasons of their own, much to Signor Matteo Salvini’s chagrin.

Does it all mean Malta has closed its doors and frozen its reputed big heart? Of course not. We know the island; this minuscule, resourceless, overpopulated island, has done more than enough on the migration issue, having saved thousands of migrant lives in the past few years for the rest of EU member states, no less Christian but by far bigger in every other sense, to take only 8% of them.

If Robert Abela’s stand is not a reality check for the whole EU, I don’t know what it needs to finally come to its senses. Ursula Von der Leyen’s State of the Union address last Wednesday offers a very thin-layered commitment. Top-brass visits to problem areas as we saw recently on Lesbos and Malta no longer impress. People all over the South simply have had enough. But they wait for Von der Leyen’s new migration pact with unabated breath....


Deserved kudos

Kudos to the Planning Authority, certainly not used to them, and the Superintendent of Cultural Heritage for giving the former residence of renowned British writer Nicholas Monsarrat in Gozo, and a palazzino in Zejtun a Grade 2 protection status for their architectural, historical and social significance. The same kudos go to the San Lawrenz local council, headed by my old friend Noel Formosa who, I am sure, also had a hand in the case of the Monsarrat residence in their village.

Throughout its history, Malta has been blessed by its association with numerous world figures from the arts, politics and diplomacy, films and other sectors. From Caravaggio, Lord Nelson and Garibaldi to Napoleon, Lord Byron, Coleridge and Benjamin Disraeli, it has given the Island the much wider and historically impressive image it enjoys when compared to other, smaller, bigger and duller, Mediterrean islands. It took an even sharper turn in the 60s and 70s when both Malta and Gozo became the home for many writers, including Anthony Burgess, Desmond Morris, Claude A. Prance, Frederic Mullally and Monsarrat whose Kappillan of Malta underscored our historical profile, possibly eclipsing his most famous work The Cruel Sea.

I first met Nicholas Monsarrat at the Phoenicia where we spent a couple of hours talking. It transpired, incredibly enough, he used to read my book review stuff on the old Malta News and wanted to alert me over his next publication, Book 1 of The Master Mariner, sadly his last work, which on his recommendation, I eventually got straight from Cassell, his publishers.

However, at Kalkara in my youth (and this may have some acquaintances, who quickly perceive what’s coming, banging their heads to the wall) we were used to hosting several top-class writers, among them Derek Maitland, with his great Vietnam book The only war we’ve got, and the famous Australian author Hugh Atkinson who, on one occasion when he may have overindulged in the strong stuff, kindly asked to see some of my English poetry. I ran home to get it, to then find him eating freshly baked pizza which seemed to go down well with the verse.

Perhaps the most mysterious foreign resident at Kalkara was an English lawyer, known to have been a protagonist at the post-WWII Nuremberg trials. He took his dog on a daily walk along the strand, hardly raising his glance from the ground. I did manage to have a peek view of the first room inside his humble seafront house where one could see rows upon rows of books on sagging shelves. My reporter instinct triggered, but he was the one that got away, alas.

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