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raphael_vassallo
Raphael Vassallo

That’s some ‘protection of human rights’, you know...

How do 33 people living and working here legally constitute a threat? How does deporting people who have been here eight years or more, do anything to stem the ongoing influx that is happening today?

raphael_vassallo
Raphael Vassallo
16 February 2017, 7:27am
Yesterday, nine asylum seekers from Mali who were still being held in detention were finally released from the Safi barracks after 90 days
Yesterday, nine asylum seekers from Mali who were still being held in detention were finally released from the Safi barracks after 90 days
On 8 December last year, outgoing European Parliament president Martin Schulz addressed a press conference flanked by Joseph Muscat and other representatives of the Maltese government. The conference was in connection with Malta’s imminent assumption of the EU’s presidency; but as tends to be the case with such events, the actual discussion extended far beyond that issue alone.

At one point, Schulz took it upon himself to answer a question put earlier to Muscat: who, until that point, was vociferously insisting that he was an ‘anti-establishment’ politician. 

"What is this establishment?” Schulz mused. “It means something that has been established. In the EU, we have established democracy, the rule of law, dignity and protection of human rights, and the fight against hate speech, racism, and anti-Semitism. If that makes me part of the establishment, then I am proud to be part of it." 

Hmm. OK, leaving aside the fact that we must now add Martin Schulz to the growing list of people in politics who clearly have no clue what the word ‘establishment’ even means... is that really what the EU is all about? ‘Dignity and the protection of human rights?’  And if so... why are so many people in the EU being stripped of their dignity and denied even the most basic of human rights, even as we speak? 

Yesterday, for instance, nine asylum seekers from Mali who were still being held in detention were finally released from the Safi barracks after 90 days. They were the last remaining members of a group of 33 Malians who had been rounded up on 16 November last year, as part of a joint EU programme which involved financial aid to Mali (among other countries) in return for the West African country’s commitment to accept deported asylum seekers. 

I specify the date because it happened to be just two weeks BEFORE Schulz gave us his own definition of the EU as a beacon of human rights. 

Last I looked, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – which forms the bedrock of European law, and which Malta entrenched in its Constitution as part of the process leading up to EU membership – specified very clearly that ALL humans are eligible to ALL rights laid down in that document. That includes failed asylum seekers from Mali, or anywhere else.

I quote Article 2 in full: “Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.”

For the record, these rights include: 

“No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.” 

“Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.”

“Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.”

“Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized.”

By my count, every one of those rights was shattered by a course of action that arose directly from an EU decision. It bears mentioning that some of these Malian immigrants had been living, working and paying taxes in Malta for over eight years by the time of their arrest. Long before the EU agreement made that eventuality possible, they had been given temporary residence permits by the Maltese authorities, to be renewed on a regular basis. 

It was, in fact, during a supposedly routine renewal of these permits (which, unbeknownst to them, had been discontinued without warning from one day to the next: again, thanks to this EU agreement) that the arrests took place.

The implications are unpleasant, for an EU that has such a lofty and unimpeachable impression of itself. Before that fateful deal with Mali, the local authorities were perfectly content to regularly renew those people’s temporary permits. This leaves little room for doubt as to who or what was responsible for the change of policy, and all the consequences that followed.  

But there is more to this bilateral agreement than the multiple human rights violations it brought about. It is also an abject failure in terms of implementation. 

On paper, the EU promised to invest 1.8 billion euros to help Mali ‘strengthen its borders’ and ‘fight the root causes of illegal immigration’. On its part, Malia was supposed to co-operate with EU member states to facilitate the return of failed asylum seekers.

Applied to the local context, it is from the outset a rotten deal for the European taxpayer. I will not deny that irregular immigration poses problems and difficulties for Europe: but what problem or difficulty did those Malians represent? How do 33 people living and working here legally constitute a threat? How does deporting people who have been here eight years or more, do anything to stem the ongoing influx that is happening today? And more to the point: how does the EU justify pumping 1.8 billion of our money into an agreement that has already been breached by one of the signatories?

Already we can see with our own eyes that Mali has not kept its side of the bargain. Those nine detainees were not released because government realised that the detention was illegal; they were released only because the government of Mali had not, as agreed, co-operated with their deportation. As Home Affairs Minister Carmelo Abela put it: "there is no indication of when Mali will send documents."

There’s only thing I can think of worse than an EU policy which abundantly defecates on human rights... and that’s an EU policy that abundantly defecates on human rights, while also failing to achieve what it had originally set out to achieve. 

But it failed on another front, too. Consider the following excerpt: “The Government of Mali and the European Union emphasise that efforts to protect refugees and other displaced persons and defend the human rights of all migrants is a shared responsibility. In this context, the EU undertakes to use the Trust Fund to improve the resilience, security and autonomy of Malian refugees living in camps or host communities in neighbouring countries.”

I find it interesting, that while the EU acknowledged its own responsibility for the human rights of refugees in Mali or neighbouring countries... it completely abdicated all responsibility for human rights violations occurring within the EU itself (in this case, Malta), as a direct consequence of its own actions.

In any case: long and hard though I have looked at this astonishingly ugly scenario, I cannot for the life of me see how it illustrates Schulz’s argument about the EU having ‘established democracy, the rule of law, dignity and protection of human rights, and the fight against hate speech, racism, and anti-Semitism.” 

On every one of those points (except perhaps the last, which is clearly inapplicable) it seems to underscore the clean opposite. ‘Democracy’ and ‘the rule of law’ cannot flourish in a condition where people are subject to arbitrary arrest over non-existent offences... given no opportunity to contest their detention, or even defend themselves against an impending deportation order... held without charge for 45 times (!) the maximum duration (48 hours) permissible by law... confined to a detention centre that has time and again been slammed as substandard by the European Council for the Prevention of Torture and Degrading Treatment... kept incommunicado and not allowed visitors, mobile phones, access to media, etc.

Every one of those facts constitutes a human rights violation unto itself. When the EU – and by extension, the government of Malta – acknowledges its own responsibility for these multiple violations... perhaps then we might be able to start taking Martin Schulz’s definition just a little seriously.

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