The Malta Independent 19 April 2021, Monday

TMID Editorial: Migration - The importance of solidarity

Monday, 5 April 2021, 10:06 Last update: about 14 days ago

While stressing Malta’s obligation to provide people rescued at sea who are disembarked in the country with access to the asylum procedure (for those seeking asylum) and accommodation in suitable and adequate reception facilities, the UNHCR also highlighted that Malta needs predictable solidarity from the EU.

Indeed solidarity on the migration issue has been a problem within the EU for many years. While there are countries that do support the Mediterranean countries that receive the most migrants, there are others that do near to nothing. EU countries should support each other on this issue while ensuring that the people who make this perilous journey are treated with dignity and respect.

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Malta was put in the spotlight recently through reports highlighting a number of issues with the way Malta approaches the treatment of migrants seeking asylum. Indeed the Council of Europe's anti-torture committee had found a number of problems with Malta’s migrant detention practices. It had found an immigration system that was struggling to cope: a system that purely “contained migrants who had essentially been forgotten, within poor conditions of detention and regimes which verged on institutional mass neglect by the authorities.”

This is absolutely unacceptable.

The Home Affairs Minister has been reported as saying however, that Malta has implemented a number of recommendations that were made by the Committee since its visit to the island, and also that there has been "enormous progress" and "substantial investment" in the centres that house people who arrive in Malta after being rescued at sea. 

Malta has taken a hard stance on migration over the past year or so, trying to push for more solidarity from other EU member states and using tactics which, while possibly being populist, left migrants stranded for many days out at sea. Just days ago the government was accused of this. Just imagine if you were one of them, would you like to be treated like that? These are not tactics which should be applauded, and the government must find other ways to put pressure on EU countries to act.

At the same time, the EU must do more to support the states on the Mediterranean’s border. It cannot be left up to Italy, Spain, Greece and Malta to greet, assess and house all asylum seekers that arrive on their shores. Other EU countries must pitch in and do their part. Some do help through relocations, but others do not. As the UNHCR pointed out, “there is an urgent need to establish a disembarkation and relocation mechanism that is predictable and based on shared responsibility, rather than continuing to rely on ad hoc agreements with just a few willing Member States."

All EU countries must understand that these are people, and not just numbers. They fled their homes for a reason. Nobody in their right mind would literally put themselves through hell, through life threatening circumstances with such a high risk of death unless they had no other choice. So many have died in the Mediterranean. Those who receive refugee status are in Europe because they faced many threats back home, including persecution or were fleeing war. Yes there are economic migrants, and the mechanisms in place are there to ensure that such people are sent back to their homes.

The European Commission had made a proposal for an EU Pact on Migration and Asylum. The UNHCR highlighted that this is a key opportunity for all states to better protect refugees, in a fair and practical way that works for people in need of protection and countries and communities hosting them. "While the proposals are still under negotiation, we welcome the emphasis on addressing root causes, on better managing migration in a way that works for everyone, and on solidarity across the EU in particular with regards to countries of first arrival. There is also a commitment to enhanced search and rescue and predictability around disembarkation. Crucially, the Commission has been clear on the protection of fundamental rights and the need to ensure the right to seek and access asylum in the EU – there can be no compromise when it comes to the fundamental right to seek asylum,” the UNHCR said.

One hopes that this proposal will lead to concrete agreement and that all EU countries will step up to help in some way or another, and that the pressures on the border countries will be alleviated.

In the meantime, hateful comments on social media must stop. Some comments on Facebook when articles on migration are written are, put plainly, shocking. They make one question where morals have gone.

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