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Home sweet Alabama

One cannot condemn racism without questioning policies based on an entrenched, institutional racism.

James Debono
2 July 2012, 12:00am
Abdalla Mohammed, 32, was beaten to death by three Detention Services officers who have been charged with his murder.
The alleged violent murder of an immigrant by soldiers whose first responsibility was protecting life, was an event of enormous gravity. 

One has to be blind not to see the wider picture of rampant racism, which has desensitised the nation from feeling empathy for migrants and asylum seekers. 

It would be a tragic mistake to treat this incident simply as the result of problems related to the management of detention centres or the lack of training of detention officers as suggested by Labour leader Joseph Muscat, who firmly condemned the incident, and called for an enquiry but sidelined the issue of racism. 

The PL's press release quoted Muscat saying, "This is not just a racial and cultural case (kaz ta' kultura u razzjali). This is also another case during this legislature of someone who died in custody." I beg to disagree. Missing the racism (not racial) aspect is like being in Alabama in the 1950s and blaming the current governor for the latest round of police beatings of black people.

For this reason it was refreshing to see the Prime Minister and the Nationalist Party firmly condemn racism and reaffirming Malta's international obligations to save people in distress on the high seas. 

But this is only part of the story. The PN in government has devised a system based on institutional racism, which segregates people who have committed no crimes for months in detention centres. Most of the people who end up in detention are people who do not even try to enter Malta in an irregular way but are simply people who were rescued from the high seas according to our international obligations.

This system also supported by the PL perpetuates the idea that immigrants and asylum seekers are criminals. This policy helps in desensitising the nation from their plight.  It also locks up traumatised people and puts army personnel in charge of them.

In reality detention is a way to appease public opinion instead of confronting it with real and effective political leadership.

James Debono is MaltaToday's chief reporter on environment, planning and land use issues, ...
truth seeker
Maybe doing away with detention completely would be hard. There needs to be some monitoring at least in the first weeks. But 18 months, the longest in the EU is completely non-sensical. The pressure it creates on both the immigrants and the officers is one of the main reasons for this volatile situation.
patrick zammit
On what grounds is James using the racism card, saying that this happened because Malta has "institutional racism" or "rampant racism"? "One has to be blind not to see the wider picture" where we had a number of cases during which people of a much lighter skin tone were severely beaten or indeed killed whilst under custody. Has James forgotten the multitude of articles/blogs which MT rightly used to highlight the sad case of N Azzopardi? The problem is not racism but the way our forces interact with suspects/detainees especially difficult ones. James does not destroy his passport/id just before entering another country because he knows that he may face detention. The multitude of illegal and mainly economic immigrants who come to this overpopulated island do just that on purpose and demand to be regaled with sustenance, social services handouts, health care, education, accommodation etc all for free because by hiding their true identity, they are in a position where they can invent any country of origin and sob stories which authorities cannot verify.
not amused
Not necessarily racism? This isn’t even the first case and we are still trying to dismiss the fact that racism sentiment has spread it’s ugly tentacles in many segments of our society. Not only do we refuse to acknowledge that but consequently there hasn’t been any effort made to contain or reverse it. I sincerely doubt whether a few timid words from the prime minister have done any difference while our usually vociferous MPs have remained strangely silent on this subject (with the exception of JPO, of course). And like a ticking bomb, we are now confronted with a reality which has shocked us to the core. The accused are undoubtedly influenced by a rampant ‘klandestini’ sentiment where illegal immigration is just perceived as a gross inconvenience and an economic burden to the nation. Resorting to such excessive force when dealing with the general public is probably something, the accused would not even have considered and yet after this shocking tragedy they, and their families, will have to pay the price for all the abuse the illegal emigrants have had to face the moment they land in Malta. And we are the ones who are going to have to pass judgement in the name of justice. Let the perpetrators walk and our reputation as a racist nation is sealed but if the accused are imprisoned they will be made to pay the price for all our sins.
Antoine Vella
I'm not sure we can do away completely with some form of detention, James. What we should do is to make it more humans. For that matter, even the open-centres policy needs to be revised. Instead of having a few large overcrowded centres we should have many smaller and more manageable ones. Unfrortunately there isn't enough discussion about this in the country.
Adrian Cachia
It doesn't necessarily have to be racism. Could it also be an excessive use of force and uncontrolled behaviour by the detention officers. Let's not forget the case of a man that claimed being beaten by police officers, the case a while back in Qormi when the police shot a person that suffered with psychiatric problems.
Tony Fenech
LOL you are one true blue James. Thanks for assuring us your leniency, deceit and lies, is not fair James, refrain or else I consider you a slapstick comedian blogger and will avoid your blogs in the future