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michaelfalzon
Michael Falzon

From pushback to Brexit

The old chestnut of foreigners ‘invading our country and taking our jobs’ hides the ugliness of bigotry posing as patriotism, and it is no coincidence that it is the clarion call of both the Maltese ‘patriots’ and the Brexiters in the UK

michaelfalzon
Michael Falzon
12 July 2016, 7:39am
North Koreans have been employed by companies like Leisure Clothing. The reason why Malta keeps on being an indirect accomplice of this obscene inhuman strategy beats me
North Koreans have been employed by companies like Leisure Clothing. The reason why Malta keeps on being an indirect accomplice of this obscene inhuman strategy beats me
Some of us might just recall the summer of 2013 when Joseph Muscat faced the first wave of migrants crossing the Mediterranean and ending in Malta. That was before he ‘fixed’ things with Matteo Renzi, who became Prime Minister of Italy in February 2014.

Muscat had threatened to push back to Libya a number of migrants who landed in Malta and this within less than 24 hours of their arrival. Later he said he was bluffing: that it was just a threat to push the EU into doing something about the annual mass exodus of refugees leaving the Libyan coast with a fraction of them ending up in Malta. 

A day after his failed ‘attempt’ to deport a group of 45 asylum seekers without giving them a chance to claim for protection, Muscat said the European Union had to take Malta’s immigration burden more seriously and justified his threat by insisting that all he wanted was for Europe ‘to wake up and smell the coffee’. 

At that time I had commented: ‘I wonder what Martin Schultz and all other European Socialists in PES now think of Joseph Muscat. His actions this week make him a more comfortable partner and colleague of the European right: the Austrian Freedom Party, the Greek political party Golden Dawn of Nikolaos Michaloliakos, the Italian Lega Nord of Umberto Bossi and Roberto Maroni; and the UK Independence Party (UKIP) of Nigel Farage. The populist attraction of these right-wingers has the same magnetic qualities of Joseph Muscat’s portrayal of himself leading the Maltese by defending their homeland against the black invasion.’

Thanks to Renzi’s providential help, Muscat changed his ways but the right wing parties in Europe kept marching on.

A phenomenon that everybody noticed during the time of that infamous episode was the rise of racial hatred in the comments approving Muscat’s folly that were posted in the social media. The racist comments spared no one who did not agree with Muscat’s attempt at pushback, and included sexist comments about EU Commissioner Cecilia Malmström. Muscat was embarrassed, to say the least. 

Eventually the Maltese right wingers lost faith in Muscat and decided to set up their own political party, styling themselves as Maltese ‘patriots’. Which makes me recall Samuel Johnson’s famous pronouncement that ‘patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel’. 

Not by coincidence, a similar phenomenon has surfaced in the UK after the Brexit referendum. On Thursday, Sky News reported that the number of hate crimes reported in the capital has risen by more than 50% in the days since the EU referendum result. Scotland Yard has confirmed the average number of hate crimes reported daily in London has risen to 67 – a 52% increase on the pre-referendum average of 44. A total of 599 incidents of race hate crime were reported to the Metropolitan Police between 24 June and 2 July.

Commander Mark Chishty, head of community engagement at the Met, was quoted as saying that people “are feeling anxious at the perception of increased intolerance against certain communities”.

Even the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, felt he had to hit out at the spreading of intolerance and hatred in the days following the EU referendum result.

‘Polish vermin’ has become a typical racist attack simply because hard-working Poles in the UK are doing better than the lazier average lager lout. 

The old chestnut of foreigners ‘invading our country and taking our jobs’ hides the ugliness of bigotry posing as patriotism. No coincidence that it is the clarion call of both the Maltese ‘patriots’ and the Brexiters in the UK.

Which points out to the responsibility – or lack thereof – of political leaders to be careful when they speak of foreigners, as their careless words could easily encourage people to racial hatred.

That is why Donald Trump is one of the worst examples of irresponsible politicians. 

First he called Mexicans drug dealers and rapists. Then they were killers, too. He has suggested that Middle Eastern terrorists have illegally crossed the US-Mexico border. So he intends to build a wall along the border, to be paid for by the Mexicans, of course.

Yet another political disaster waiting to happen...

North Korean tricks

Earlier this week, the website of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC News) carried an item about North Korean workers abroad earning foreign currency for the Kim Jong-un regime.

The report claims that North Korea has sent hundreds of workers to labour as “state-sponsored slaves” in EU nations, as Pyongyang seeks to circumvent international sanctions aimed at starving it of money over its nuclear weapons programme and continues on to state: ‘North Korean labourers commonly work 10 to 12 hour shifts, six days a week, but up to 90 per cent of their pay is sent back to the hermit state, according to the European Alliance for Human Rights in North Korea (EAHRNK)’.

The rights group said most North Koreans are working in Polish shipyards, construction sites and farms, but many are also employed in leisure and clothing firms in Malta, and have worked in other EU countries.

Campaigners say North Korea is using overseas labour to earn much needed foreign currency to offset the impact of UN sanctions, which were expanded in March after a nuclear test on January 6 and a February 7 rocket launch.

EAHRNK director Michael Glendinning said Pyongyang was “in full control and benefiting hugely”.

A UN report last year estimated there were over 50,000 North Koreans working abroad, earning the state $1.2 billion to $2.3 billion annually, although some experts question these figures.

North Koreans do not have proper contracts or payslips, must surrender their passports, and face restrictions in their movements. They are also kept under surveillance and have to participate in ideological study sessions.

Poland issued 2,783 work permits for North Koreans between 2008 and 2015, according to the LeidenAsiaCentre that has linked 32 Polish companies to their employment.

Campaigners say North Koreans are vetted closely before being sent overseas to minimise the risk of defection: “They only select workers who are married and have children _ hostage-taking essentially,” Mr Glendinning said. “If they were to defect, the family would likely face some kind of punishment in a political prison camp, a re-education camp or – in extreme cases – execution.”

The reason why Malta keeps on being an indirect accomplice of this obscene inhuman strategy beats me.

m[email protected]

michaelfalzon
Michael Falzon is a former government minister who served under several Nationalist admini...
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