Safe communities and a duty to stamp out racism

Scaremongering and xenophobia are the easiest things to foment and lest we forget the difficult lessons learnt from the Lassana Cisse murder, things can get very ugly

People were understandably shocked when a fight between two Nigerian men ended up with one of them strewn across the road in a pool of blood outside the Qawra parish church on Sunday.

Mere minutes after the incident, a photo of the bloodied man was posted on social media and it spread like wildfire.

Any photo of a victim covered in blood is bound to cause shock but it seems this case elicited particular attention because both men are black.

The genuine concerns of those who feel certain neighbourhoods have become lawless were drowned out by a cacophony of xenophobic and racist voices calling for a crackdown on foreigners.

For starters, this is not the first incident of its kind in a public street or a residential neighbourhood – we’ve had stabbings, targeted killings using machine guns and serious altercations happening in the past and in most cases, they involved Maltese nationals.

The mere fact that the two men involved in the Qawra incident were Nigerian does not make such incidents more appalling than others.

Such crimes cause unease in the communities where they happen, irrespective of who the people involved are. And the authorities have a duty to step in and provide reassurance.

But solutions to address unruliness, anti-social behaviour and criminality are not found by introducing xenophobia and racism into the equation.

The scaremongering, fatalism and scattergun approach adopted towards foreigners whenever such cases erupt are just populist ways of showing outrage that do little to provide solutions that are legal, doable and grounded in reality.

Like any other case, the police investigated the two men and pressed charges accordingly. But the courts must also send a strong message against such barbaric behaviour and if the men are not deserving of international protection they should have been issued with a deportation order.

However, beyond the immediate action on this case there exists the need for a more holistic approach to address racial tensions within our communities.

Simple measures like sending all foreigners back are downright dumb and impractical. Malta would literally grind to a halt as we’d end up with an even bigger shortage of nurses, carers, bus drivers, shop attendants, garbage collectors, waiters, hotel staff and builders.

Whether we like it or not, the 100,000 or so foreigners working and living in Malta have become an essential part of this country’s economic make-up.

But the authorities can and must tighten the screws on the type of foreign labour being brought over to Malta. The ability to communicate well in English and a clean conduct should be two basic requirements that must be adhered to scrupulously. And foreign workers engaged in skilled jobs must prove their suitability for those jobs.

However, the authorities must also look into the conditions of employment of foreigners brought over by temping agencies to ensure these individuals are not being exploited.

People who are treated badly are less motivated to try and integrate in the community they are living in and a characteristic of this is the rapid turnover – statistics show that most foreigners come to live and work here for a year or two and then leave. This creates instability because people who consider themselves as transient workers have little incentive to get to know the community they live in.

At another level, foreigners coming from countries outside the EU must understand this country’s social norms and know what is legal and what is not. This is especially so when dealing with people from countries where women’s rights and the rights of LGBTIQ+ persons are non-existent or diminished.

Cultural differences can create social tension, which is why local councils must be equipped with cultural mediators who can step in when foreigners engage in behaviours incongruent with what Maltese society finds acceptable.

On a more macro level, the country has to transition to a different economic model that reduces the dependence on cheap foreign labour. But even in making this argument it would be simplistic to believe that Malta can simply shut its doors to foreign workers.

Malta is no different from most other developed countries where social mobility has resulted in people shunning entry-level jobs. It is a phenomenon witnessed in many western countries, which necessitates the importation of labour to fill vacancies in sectors where the native population is no longer interested in working.

With the European Parliament election less than a year away, it is very easy for politicians to fall into populist mode by fuelling unrealistic expectations and providing no or impractical solutions.

Scaremongering and xenophobia are the easiest things to foment and lest we forget the difficult lessons learnt from the Lassana Cisse murder, things can get very ugly.

People have a right to live serenely within their communities and the authorities must ensure law enforcement is maintained at all times. But politicians and community leaders also have a duty to ensure xenophobia and racism do not rear their ugly heads.