It is all about people

Everywhere, thousands wait and hope to escape from a calamity that is of epic proportions. Dreaming of a new future in Europe.

Beside the departure lounges, at the train stations of Belgrade and Budapest, in the ports of Thessaloniki, Athens and on the piers of Kos in Greece.  Around the coasts, of Tripoli and Benghazi.  In the suburbs of Istanbul and on the borders of Syria.

Everywhere, thousands wait and hope to escape from a calamity that is of epic proportions. Dreaming of a new future in Europe.

In Malta in the heart of Hamrun, six pot bellied men sit around a table in the bar in a band club, they drink beer and struggle with the toothpick as they devour the snail floating in the black brown concoction put before them for their delectability. They pour scorn on the black Africans and the Arabs that want to take over.

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In Sliema at the Ferries, four middle-aged women sip coffee in the shade of the café’s awning on the wide pavement, they read The Times. “Did you see this story on Mintoff’s statue in front of Castille?” The cadence at the end of the word Castille gives their political and class origins away.

They also remark about how blacks, foreigners and Arabs are taking over our country. They complain that it is hot and that the cappuccino is not as frothy.

Watching them is Anwarm, he is tall, and he looks frail, he is the dishwasher, but as he stares at them for no reason at all he gets flashbacks of Sirad, his wife, and Darmal, the young boy of four. He cannot bear recalling the ear-splitting, heart-rending screams as they desperately flailed their hands helplessly in the water into which they disappeared forever.

The four middle-aged women complain that it is hot and that the cappuccino is not as frothy as they are used to having it.

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I wake up and the first tweet is about hundreds losing their life as another boat capsizes off Libya. The picture of the week is re-tweeted of a despairing Syrian father clasping his young child.  Behind him the vast open sea. Another tweet from Al-Jazeera – the news agency has decided to do away with the word migrant.  That sets me thinking.

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On a 45-footer, four middle-aged couples sing and drink as they ply the Mediterranean on their sailing boat. They are cruising not sailing. They sip wine and feast on some delicious savouries. They sound as if they are the worse for drink.

The boat is on autopilot and heading for Marina di Ragusa. They taunt each other and dish out jokes with the usual sexual innuendos. Some 10 nautical miles away from them an overcrowded dinghy is sinking. Of the 300 people on board, only 17 men know how to swim.

The women are yelling, the children are sobbing. Not even loud enough to be noticed. They are under shock. The stench on the boat is unbearable, the stink of faeces, urine and vomit is overwhelming, though they are on the open sea, not on built land.

Some of the children just stare and do not move. Suddenly the dinghy capsizes, the calm sea turns into a maelstrom of splashes, foaming and frantic waving of hands. It happens so fast and then within minutes there is an eerie silence, even the ripples have died down. On the sailing boat, almost visible in the distance, the blaring music of ‘How deep is your love’ of Calvin Harris drowns out the creaking of the boat’s deck paraphernalia. “This is real fun,” one of the women on board says.

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On Tuesday, the MaltaToday editorial team meet in conference.  “What about doing away with the word migrant?”

Okay, but what do we use instead?

“A refugee or asylum seeker, that is a person seeking asylum or simply a person or people facing a tragedy. We have to look at these people as people!”

At that moment MaltaToday’s editorial is scripted in our minds and we decide the points for it.

In our editorial we did say that on a practical level it is easier to use simple, blanket terminology to describe complex situations. “But at the best of times this is a misrepresentation of the reality being described. And under the current circumstances, it is also irresponsible to cement misconceptions that are in turn fuelling a worrying increase in racism and xenophobia.” 

Here at MaltaToday our own local experience bears this argument out. In a recent survey conducted by MaltaToday we noted that resistance to integration is at its highest among those categories who had little or no exposure to foreigners. 

“In this case, it is unfamiliarity that breeds contempt – and the reductive language used to describe these people is a major factor contributing to widespread ignorance on the subject of migration.”

And ignorance is perhaps the biggest drawback we have in this country. I guess in any country.  

What is worse is that politicians know that integration is not a problem. What is a problem for the politicians are their xenophobic constituents who want them to be stern on people who arrive in boats.

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The MaltaToday editorial set the tone – “The media and people in public positions must bear these considerations in mind when dealing with the issue. Local standards of reportage have often failed to live up to the standards of responsible reporting: all too often, brazenly xenophobic attitudes have been cemented and inculcated through thoughtless use of language.”

So next time you hear someone refer to a migrant please remind him that they are people not migrants! Just like the rest of us.

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