Compassion is no insurance policy

The outrage at the death of asylum seekers attempting to reach Europe by boat from Libya disappears as soon as the cameras at the extraordinary summits in Brussels are switched off.

Muscat also hinted that his government might look into regularising “migrant workers” who for years have been exploited by greedy employers. Again, better late than never.
Muscat also hinted that his government might look into regularising “migrant workers” who for years have been exploited by greedy employers. Again, better late than never.

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has gone on record saying that Malta is willing to receive 75 Syrian refugees or more “if need be”, a most noble and magnanimous statement.

And yet, moments later, he said that Malta was willing to do so at a time when the country’s intake of asylum seekers is almost inexistent, and so “Malta would have no qualms about asking for help from Europe in the future should we need it – since this would prove that we did our part.”

In other words, Muscat’s act of compassion is nothing but an insurance policy should asylum seekers reach our shores in large numbers again. 

The logical conclusion is that had Malta not been a frontier country, Muscat would act like any other egotistical politician and opt out of the country’s obligations towards humans in need of refuge. If the ‘threat’ of a major influx of asylum seekers was not a possibility, he might have not given a hoot since there would have been nothing to gain in showing compassion.

With the spectre of racism rearing its head again, the Prime Minister’s opportunist statements confirm that Malta is no different from the hawkish and anti-immigrant states in Eastern Europe.

For the time being, Italy is taking the bulk of asylum seekers who would normally seek refuge in Malta. Last year, 569 asylum seekers were brought to Maltese shores, a decrease of 71.7% over the preceding year. In the first six months of this year, a mere 100 people reached Malta by boat.

And yet jingoists from all walks of life insist on talking about an invasion and, as shown by a recent MaltaToday survey, migration remains one of the people’s top concerns.

Despite the impression of being a changed man, Muscat’s stand on migration remains devious and opportunistic. Instead of quelling irrational fears of inexistent invasions, Muscat and his government feed on them.

For a start, if this government is as compassionate as it pretends to be, it could easily issue humanitarian visas to Syrian refugees stuck behind Hungary’s fascist fence on its southern border or in the abject camps in Jordan and Lebanon.

The sudden empathy shown towards Syrian refuges also exposes the institutional racism in Malta. While there has been a worldwide outpouring of sympathy towards Syrian refugees, the same cannot be said about the hundreds of thousands of Eritreans, Somalis, Sudanese, and other sub-Saharan refugees who have been seeking refuge in Malta and beyond for years. No sympathy for the children, women and men risking their lives at sea.

The outrage at the death of asylum seekers attempting to reach Europe by boat from Libya disappears as soon as the cameras at the extraordinary summits in Brussels are switched off.

On Sunday, Muscat also hinted that his government might look into regularising “migrant workers” who for years have been exploited by greedy employers. Again, better late than never.

But it would be wrong and short-sighted to regularise workers who have been working in the black economy for years to as a reaction to the discontent of Maltese workers who feel “undermined.”

The regularisation of asylum seekers and refugees must be coupled with a wider-reaching reform to ensure that everyone living in Malta has equal access to civil rights, education, labour rights, health services, housing and social welfare.

Moreover, an integration policy must also include a nation-wide educational programme to inform asylum seekers and refugees of their rights and obligations.

Likewise, we must take anti-racism campaigns to our kindergartens, schools, town squares, factories and parish halls.

I despise it when asylum seekers are portrayed as an opportunity because humans are not a commodity or an asset. But the experience of other countries has shown that migrants give much more to a country – culturally, economically and socially – than they take. Unfortunately, this has not been taken on board by our political leaders and the people who elect them. 

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