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We do have a problem… and a solution | Chris Fearne

'I am hopeful that not turning a blind eye to the reality in Marsa and diligently doing something about it is the only way forward'

Chris Fearne
13 December 2017, 7:26am
"The high concentration of immigrants in Marsa and its environs is a problem crying out for a solution"
There is a lesson from the world of paediatric surgery I inhabited for decades that I have carried over with me to the world of politics. The most indispensible thing required to solve a problem is to recognise it for what it is. The best solution, or at least the best options for one, are then bound to follow.

In this spirit, allow me to say it as it is. The high concentration of immigrants in Marsa and its environs is a problem crying out for a solution. It is being felt by residents, businesses and law-abiding immigrants and their families themselves.

Successive governments - truth be told, including this one - have done very little to address the issue. Indeed, there has hardly been acknowledgement that a problem exists. Perhaps this has been a result of political expediency: any attempt to do something, even with the best of intentions, is bound to raise the spectre of racism. On behalf of the government I would like to challenge this false premise.

So what is the current problem with immigrants in Marsa? What is it about this town that those living in the rest of the country seem to be oblivious to? Are Marsa residents racists or are their complaints legitimate ones in an open and transparent democracy?

Here are the facts. Drinking, disorderly behaviour and fighting in the streets have become daily occurrences in Marsa. With their limited resources, the police are not coping and are not able to discharge their duties properly. In certain intense and tense situations they are forced not to intervene out of fear for their own safety. Residents are feeling threatened and are deriving insufficient comfort and security from the state. Overall, a sense of incipient and burgeoning lawlessness is creeping in.

Confronted with this situation, we must act. But to do so we must first of all be clear about the principles that shall guide us. Racism, xenophobia, a visceral hatred of the ‘other’ in our midst or a culture of blaming have absolutely no place in guiding our political action. To think that good and bad are neatly separated by a line separating people according to race, religion, ethnicity and skin colour is as false as it is myopic to real solutions.

On the contrary, we are resolute to be guided by two fundamental principles. Firstly, as guardians of the common good, as a government, we must ensure that the rule of law prevails in all circumstances and with respect to everyone. Tolerating illegality for whatever reason can never be a sound basis for effective political action. Indeed, it would be the undoing of democracy itself. The rule of law is blind to skin colour, is not taken in by differences in ethnicity and is oblivious to the altar you worship at. It is there as the bedrock of citizenship. Full stop. A community without the rule of law is no community at all.

Secondly, we propose to embark with determination on a long-term, rational and effective programme of social integration of all immigrants who are legally entitled to live and work here. If we continue to treat these families, men, women and children as outsiders they will continue to regard themselves as such and consequently act accordingly. If, on the other hand, we gradually integrate them into our way of life, with full respect for their beliefs and cultures, not only will our communities be safer but they will be positively enriched.

"We shall move in this direction by giving our police force the necessary resources to work with, to enforce the law and increase regular area patrolling"
From this vantage point, we are looking at concrete solutions on a number of fronts. Our strong belief in the rule of law drives us to ensure that no part of Malta is beyond its reach. We are one nation and will continue to be so. We shall move in this direction by giving our police force the necessary resources to work with, to enforce the law and increase regular area patrolling. We shall also be looking at updating by-laws – such as drinking in public – which will facilitate this work. At the same time, we would also like to implement initiatives which encourage and sustain good and reciprocal neighbourly behaviour and relations.

To do all this we will also be seeking to work closely with local councils and the various NGOs who assist and represent immigrants. Their knowledge of the hard and harsh reality on the ground, of the social, cultural, economic and institutional factors at play would be indispensable for this initiative to work.

I am hopeful that not turning a blind eye to the reality in Marsa and diligently doing something about it is the only way forward. With everyone’s cooperation and input, under the leadership of Interior Minister Michael Farrugia, I am certain that the desired results will be obtained. I am also certain that this pilot project will serve as a template from implementing it in other areas calling for it, such as Birzebbuga.

Chris Fearne is deputy prime minister and minister for health

Chris Fearne is deputy prime minister and minister for health
DealToday
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