Back
Register for SMS Alerts
or enter your details manually below...
First Name:
Last Name:
Email:
Password:
Hometown:
Birthday:
Sorry, we couldn't find that email.
Existing users
Email
Password
Sorry, we couldn't find those details.
Enter Email
Sorry, we couldn't find that email.

Facing a constructed crisis | Therese Comodini Cachia

MEP candidate Therese Comodini Cachia believes the big migration ‘crisis’ is being constructed as a backdrop to next year’s European elections.

james
James Debono
2 September 2013, 12:00am


Therese Comodini Cachia, a lawyer specialising in fundamental human rights, may well represent a rare and new breed in the Nationalist Party: she is a 40-year old professional woman with an affinity for the work that NGOs do, who has the knowledge and experience to back up a keen effort to confront misconceptions on sensitive issues like immigration.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, she does not shy away from confronting the migration issue head-on, despite her hunch that it will in fact be the big issue of next year's campaign.

In fact she has no doubt that immigration is being "built up into a national crisis" by Prime Minister Joseph Muscat as Labour's bête noire for the European elections, a fact she feels is, to say the least, "most unfortunate".

"It is unfortunate because the way political discourse on migration is being framed is perpetuating an 'us against them' scenario that is also creating a social divide. Even if you have two kids and you start comparing them to each other, you are bound to create an argument between them."

While acknowledging that migration poses logistical difficulties for a small island state like Malta, "it is not the big crisis that the prime minister makes it to be," Comodini Cachia says.

"Immigration is not tackled by simply using strong language, which only serves to unleash the racism which exists out there."

She points out that every population has a group of people who are racist, but warns that persons with authority are duty-bound not to legitimise these sentiments. "You cannot afford having a person in authority who unleashes these forces."

As an example she mentions the personal attacks on Cecilia Malmström's Facebook wall. "I cannot believe that we have stooped so low," she adds, before attributing a degree of political responsibility for this explosion of hatred towards the EU commissioner to the prime minister.

"For heaven's sake, it was also wrong telling Cecilia Malmström 'if you want them take them to Sweden'," referring to Muscat's first reaction to the commissioner's recommendation to Malta that it take in the stranded migrants aboard the oil tanker MT Salamis.

"He was also wrong in targeting Cecilia Malmström, who is not responsible for decisions taken by the Council of Ministers. He was addressing the wrong person. On this issue it is neither the commissioner nor the European Parliament which is not supporting us. It is the Council of Ministers, representing each and every member state, which is not entirely supporting us."

Comodini Cachia does not try to score points by giving the false impression that MEPs can solve the problem by simply stamping their feet in the European Parliament. But she praises Simon Busuttil's work as the European People's Party (EPP) representative in the Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee, which covered issues that included the Common European Immigration and Asylum policy.

"We have managed to get from the European Parliament what we could possibly get... it is the nation states who are not convinced of the necessity of burden sharing."

She notes that many Maltese are failing to distinguish between the role of our MEPs and the role of our ministers in the European council. "Let's take immigration. As an MEP Simon Busuttil left no stone unturned... and if there is an organ in the European Union which is aware of our difficulties on this issue it is the European Parliament. But what is the council of governments doing? There you don't have MEPs, you have ministers, including our own."

So isn't Muscat justified in threatening the use of veto in the council of ministers where the decisions that matter are taken?

Comodini Cachia warns that this could be counterproductive. "How can you use the veto on something which endangers everything else? We have gained a lot from the European Union, not just financially, but also by raising standards affecting quality of life."

The problem would be on what occasion will the government use its veto. "Would you use the veto on social affairs, which is good for your own people? Why not get your ministers to instead lobby other ministers to influence decisions?"

When plans on implementing the pushback of migrants to Libya were being put in place before the government was stopped by an injunction by the European Court of Human Rights (a court belonging to the Council of Europe, not the EU) the Nationalist Party did take a stance against the pushbacks, insisting that this was in breach of international law. Yet at least to me, Simon Busuttil's objection was too legalistic to provide a sense of moral leadership on this sensitive issue. Shouldn't the PN take a more passionate stand and provide a sense of leadership on migration?

Comodini Cachia takes a step back, making a reflection on the way political parties are dealing with this issue, noting that by turning immigration into a political football the government had put the PN in a difficult position that risks creating a partisan divide on this sensitive issue.

"Immigration is a very sensitive topic and is becoming even more so as the issue has been politicised. When the PN rightly issued a statement against the pushbacks, a perception was created that government was at one extreme and the opposition was on the other extreme of the debate."

What is needed according to Comodini Cachia, is a qualitative leap in political discourse, which addresses both the concerns Maltese people have on immigration and the rights of migrants themselves.

"Immigration does affect us as we are receiving immigrants. But it also affects immigrants themselves. We need to create an awareness which addresses the concerns and rights of both groups rather than foster an 'us versus them' mentality. This can be brought about by integration."

I point out that the previous Nationalist government was not keen on implementing integration policies. In fact a commitment for such a policy was only made by the PN in its election manifesto. "Judging from my experience of working with NGOs on this issue, the blocking obstacle for immigration is the sense of fear towards African, black migrants. For those who know the facts this fear is clearly irrational. But people out there do not know the facts. "

Information is the key to combat this irrational fear, she says. "Many people out there believe that there are 16,000 immigrants living in Malta when we don't. In reality we may have a maximum of 5,000 migrants. That is the problem."

But wasn't the PN responsible for not addressing these fears in the past? Comodini Cachia agrees.

"In the past the PN really failed to tell the people out there the fact that although we were receiving around 2,000 migrants each year, many were leaving the island either through repatriation, re-settlement or simply leaving of their own volition. This was our major mistake: we did not communicate this well. That is what the PN should be communicating now: the correct facts on immigration".

Disseminating correct information is therefore the best antidote to contrast irrational fears.

"People out there are afraid of immigration and I think the prime minister is thriving on this fear. Every individual has a fear of the unknown and for us immigrants represent the unknown."

I point out that Simon Busuttil still supported Joseph Muscat's stance on the Salamis case, a case involving a ship's captain who apparently ignored instructions to take asylum seekers back to Libya, and proceeded in Malta's direction. On that occasion Muscat, with Busuttil's full backing, refused to accept the migrants in Malta insisting that these should be sent back to Libya. This resulted in three-day stand off, during which migrants were left on an oil tanker. All throughout the crisis the migrants' humanitarian plight was overshadowed by bickering over who should take responsibility for them. A humanitarian tragedy was only avoided after Italy finally accepted responsibility for the migrants.

She acknowledges that this case posed a major difficulty for her party, after it had invoked international law against Joseph Muscat's threat to push back migrants to Libya. "Strictly speaking, in terms of international law we were correct - the Salamis should not have brought the migrants to Malta. But this is the conclusion one arrives at when one's perspective is limited to maritime law. But there is also humanitarian law."

Comodini Cachia claims that when it issued its statement the PN was seeing things from the perspective of maritime law, simply because at the time it had issued the statement (on the first day of the crisis) at a point when the situation had not yet degenerated into a humanitarian crisis.

"Had the stand-off dragged on, I am sure the PN would have said, 'Look, there is humanitarian law as well and in such a circumstance you have to take migrants in and we are no longer backing you if you refuse to do this'."

I point out that in this case Italy saved Malta's face by accepting the migrants. Comodini Cachia disagrees. "Italy actually fooled us. It played a game. In the EU Italy has a very bad reputation on immigration. In this case Italy pushed up its reputation by making Malta look bad. This was really frustrating because for us having a good reputation is one of the best assets we can have."

Judging by the contents of speeches made by some MEPs and local politicians, the only European issue that matters is migration. I spell out the irony that the same politicians who bash Europe on migration are often the first to lash at the EU for over-stepping its remit when it talks of a harmonisation of taxation and a Europe-wide tax on financial transactions, which would negatively impact Malta's budding financial sector.

"We seem to like to send what we perceive as our problems to Europe but are not willing to surrender anything which is to our advantage... but we have to admit that every nation tends to be selfish, wanting the good things for itself while sharing the problems with others," Comodini Cachia says.

But she warns that to retain competence over sectors beneficial to Malta, we also cannot afford to poison the well with inflammatory rhetoric directed against the European Union and its officials.

"We also want burden sharing because we perceive immigration as a burden. Therefore we think that the EU is there to share our burden but not to share our pride and joy issues. But this is wrong. Because the EU is built on compromise, cooperation and persuasion. If you need to retain your pride and joy, you need to cooperate on immigration as well."

She fears that many Maltese do not grasp what the EU actually means, with some perceiving it as a cow to be milked. "We have given people so many 'numbers' of euros we obtained from the EU without explaining how this money was translated in their personal life."

As an example she cites the €85 million given to Malta on migration. "Do we know what these €85 million meant for Malta? A example was to buy better cars for the police. I don't think it was the migrants who benefited from this money. I think it was us who benefited the most. "

She observes that a lot of EU funding goes unnoticed because it is not specifically directed at individuals, but towards the development of society as whole, on issues like educating employers on EU regulations which are beneficial to workers and consumers.

So does Comodini Cachia favour a more united, federal Europe where more competences are shared; or is she a 'sovereignist' who wants to preserve the prerogatives of nation states - a question rarely posed to aspiring MEPs but which has great relevance in debates on the future of Europe. Comodini Cachia emerges as a very cautious federalist.

"I would love to see a better concerted effort for more cooperation which could possibly in the future lead to a federal Europe, but not necessarily at the moment. I think that people are quite happy with the current balance between EU competences and national competences. To have a federal Europe you need a lot of public support."

May's elections will not be the first electoral appointment for the 40-year-old candidate. Despite not being elected back in March 2013 and seeing her party trounced at the polls, she still describes her political baptism by fire as a "marvellous experience."

She won 846 votes in her first outing, even surpassing seasoned candidates like MEP David Casa, who contested the sixth district. "I did not have enormous expectations.... When after the election someone told me that I had got more first count votes than some of the MPs who were actually elected in parliament, I replied 'Really?' I did not even think of checking that out. "

But the election was a devastating blow for the PN, trounced by an unprecedented 36,000-vote margin. "It was a very big blow. But the present leadership is working through it, very strategically... for in order to recover you have to first set your house in order. What was really damaging was that certain aspects of our own internal affairs were not in order."

Simon Busuttil, who has still not left his mark as the new PN leader, has been busy handling matters internally, she says. "People out there may have the impression that nothing is being done. But that could be because we are embarking on first putting out house in order. When you are putting the house in order it is an internal exercise. I am sure that once the restructuring process is completed you will see the changes."

In the past two elections the party lacked an overriding battle cry like democracy or EU membership. By the last election it was very difficult to gauge what the PN actually stood for. So what does the PN stand for now?

"The party did not project its own values and principles. Now there is no major event, although this could change due to what is happening in Egypt and Syria. But we need to push forward the values and principles we stand for. We need to definitely explain what these values and principles mean to people in their own life."

What are these core values?

"One of the most amazing values of the PN is that whatever we do, we try to keep the individual at the centre of our policies."

But she admits that this is not easy, considering that there are so many individual needs and so many groups that have their own way of life. This is why, according to Comodini Cachia, the PN needs to have a picture of Maltese society and formulate policies according to its needs.

Comodini Cachia turns away from traditional politics, based on fixed identities like social class, without ignoring the disadvantages faced by lower income groups and realities like precarious working conditions  - lamenting her own government's failure to enforce the laws it enacted over the past years.

"Society has changed and people today have multiple identities. In one family one can find a business-minded investor, a professional and a manual worker living under the same roof.... Moreover people today identify with issues. That is why the PN needs to understand how Maltese society is changing."
james
James Debono is MaltaToday's chief reporter on environment, planning and land use issues, ...
avatar
TCC being a lawyer she should go to the illegal immigrants own countries and defend them there instead of sitting comfortably in Malta preaching to us to accept them. How about it TCC? How about putting into practice what you preach TCC? Or is it too much for you?
avatar
john spiteri
Today Bulgaria procalimed that it has an emergency and has called on the EU, the United Nations and the Red Cross because it has been receiving 100 refugees ( not illegal immigrants) a day for the last month! Now we all know that Bulgaria is a huge country with a lot of resources and yet they deem they have an emergency because of a few hundreds of bona fide refugees? What should tiny Malta do then? One thing for sure , I am not going to vote (during the next European parliament) for local MPs who do not have Malta's interest at heart. MEPs are our representatives and they should respect our needs in the European Parliament!
avatar
"her political baptism by fire as a marvellous experience":Lil Dr. Comodini nistaqsijha:" Veru li int gejt mistiedna biex issir kandidata nazzjonalista ghax xi sentejn ilu hadt il-kas tieghi f'idejk, cioe'il-frame-up ta' missieri Karm Grima, li intbghat Monte Carmelis ghall-ghomru inturtament fuq tlitt certifikati medici foloz u li l-Imhallef Lino Agius kien jaf b'kollox; li wara li accettajtu u domt tistudjah seba xhur , bghatli kollox lura ma avukat iehor ghax offrewlwk post fil-kandidatura mal-PN li hu hu imdahhal sew fil-frame-up ta' missieri, u li hemm elementi qawwija biex dan ma jinkixifx ghax l-Inkjesta Muscat Azzoppardi kixfet min kien li orkestra dan il-frame-up. Int tghid li int taqbez ghad-drittijiet taz-zghir meta int, fl-opinjoni tieghi tlaqtni ghax offrewlwk karrotta biex taqta mill-kas hekk sensitiv tieghi u hallejtni fl-abbiss ta' gideb fuq missieri, li issa ilu sejjer ghal dawn l-ahhar 33 sena.
avatar
Matthew Pace
If it is a constructed crisis, why does Malta have the highest ratio of asylum seekers per capita in Europe? Not only that, but only 4% are accepted as refugees, the rest are economic migrants who in some cases cannot be returned home. It is obvious to all the the system is being heavily abused.
avatar
Malcolm Mifsud
Just claptrap and piffle logic from TCC where it is she who is trying to make some noise in her upcoming MEP bid. The PM is simply reflecting the concerns of 90% of the population when it comes to the flow of irregular immigrants. The principled stance in the national interest taken by Dr.Muscat has earned the support and respect of all of us who recognize the unfair way the EU is in practice not helping to share the burden in an equitable way.
avatar
Malcolm Mifsud
Just claptrap and piffle logic from TCC where it is she who is trying to make some noise in her upcoming MEP bid. The PM is simply reflecting the concerns of 90% of the population when it comes to the flow of irregular immigrants. The principled stance in the national interest taken by Dr.Muscat has earned the support and respect of all of us who recognize the unfair way the EU is in practice not helping to share the burden in an equitable way.
avatar
Emanuel Portelli
Miskina nithassara lil din Comodini, ara lil min Xmun irridna nivvutaw.
avatar
One question to ask Ms Comodini Cachia: What is going to happen when your sixteen year old daughter comes home and informs you that one of these illegal immigrants is her steady boy friend? What is going to happen when these illegal immigrants start to outnumber us and insist that women must wear a Hijab and scarf? What happens when you have to give up the catholic religion and must adapt to the Muslim religion? And no migration is not being framed and perpetuating "us against them" it is being framed as them against us. Other EU countries did not think it could happen to them but it did. Ask any Briton, or German, or Spaniard or Italian especially those that live in on the island of Lampedusa and the list goes on and on. The only EU country not bothered by all this is Brussels because they are immune to illegal immigration. Why should we give up what our forefathers fought bravely and hard for. Freedom is very precious and must be earned and not given away. By the way illegal immigration is a major crisis and the Maltese people are very worried. Joseph Muscat is right to protect Malta and the Maltese.
avatar
MaryGrace Agius Agius
I am not influenced by the Prime Minister or any journalist or politician in holding my view that, yes, immigration has reached crisis level. I see the crisis picnicking on the turf under the Air Force Memorial and sitting around Apap’s Triton’s Fountain every time I enter Valletta. The PN government was lackadaisical about the problem and accepted a lame voluntary resettlement regime by the EU. The present government has shown a willingness to do more – not that it’s easy – in the face of opposition from abroad and from the fifth column at home. I would be reluctant, indeed unwilling, to give my vote to any candidate in any election that plays down the African immigration issue or who advocates an integration policy of African immigrants into Maltese society. While they are under our care, the unfortunate immigrants should be treated in the most humane manner in accordance with the limited resources at our disposal but there must be no hesitation that they are all destined to leave Malta. Repatriation should be the policy of choice. These immigrants, most in the prime of their life, should go back to their countries of origin and build their economies and help solve the social and political woes that afflict their countries. If they don’t, who will? They are needed in Africa not in Malta or in the rest of Europe. Even if a more open policy of immigration had to be accepted, the law of physics and of the market lay down a saturation point. I believe that saturation point has been reached in Europe and African emigration to the European continent, and more so to Malta, must be reversed for the good of Europe and of Africa and for the good of the present generations and future ones. We owe it to our descendants to give them a society as homogeneous as possible, as free of social, racial and religious strife as we can make it.
avatar
George Muscat
How can Therese Comodini Cachia, a lawyer specialising in fundamental human rights be part of the Nationalist Party??? The Party that DISCRIMINATION was a must on the Main Menu of daily dairy of the PN, the Party that even those within it were discriminated.
avatar
maria rita Muscat
(In fact she has no doubt that immigration is being "built up into a national crisis" by Prime Minister Joseph Muscat as Labour's bête noire for the European elections, a fact she feels is, to say the least, "most unfortunate".) Come on Dr Cachia lets be realistic about this matter said issue has been with us for quite a long time now and this comment in my opinion is not realistic. It is not a question of us and them. It is a question of conceding a 150 km island to someone else who has invaded us illegally, and only for economic reasons. When we had the Arab spring unrest we did not have people from Arab states migrating to Malta due to their situation in there country it was only the few and have since left and went back home. This is different and it has always been different the only reason is an economic reason. Also one has to keep in mind the treaties within the EU about relocating these illegal migrants to the place of landing. If this is applied we will be submerged up to our eyeballs than.
avatar
Paul Debono
Is the learned lawyer and MEP suggesting that politicians should keep their mouth shut about immigration and if ever they open their mouths is for the welcoming of the hundreds of thousands (some say a million plus) waiting in Libya to cross over to Europe? – I hate to think what will happen to our little over populated country if only 10% of those waiting to cross to Europe end up in Malta.
avatar
maria rita Muscat
(In fact she has no doubt that immigration is being "built up into a national crisis" by Prime Minister Joseph Muscat as Labour's bête noire for the European elections, a fact she feels is, to say the least, "most unfortunate".) Come on Dr Cachia lets be realistic about this matter said issue has been with us for quite a long time now and this comment in my opinion is not realistic. It is not a question of us and them. It is a question of conceding a 150 km island to someone else who has invaded us illegally, and only for economic reasons. When we had the Arab spring unrest we did not have people from Arab states migrating to Malta due to their situation in there country it was only the few and have since left and went back home. This is different and it has always been different the only reason is an economic reason. Also one has to keep in mind the treaties within the EU about relocating these illegal migrants to the place of landing. If this is applied we will be submerged up to our eyeballs than.
avatar
albert leone
IS THIS LADY, one of the 69 serious or trying to pull our leg? QUOTE ~the big migration ‘crisis’ is being constructed ~ How big should this "crisis" be for Comodini to call it a CRISIS? The electorate will judge HOW BIG THIS CRISIS IS , and she should start doing something about it now with MALTA'S interest in mind , not her Party's !