‘Seize the boat and sink it!’ Malta social welfare boss Grixti on migrants pleading for safe port

Social welfare agency CEO Alfred Grixti posts Facebook comment saying migrant rescue boat should be impounded and scuttled

Alfred Grixti (right) revels in having met the Pope on his Facebook profile. Inset: his comment on Facebook saying the migrant rescue boat should be seized and sunken
Alfred Grixti (right) revels in having met the Pope on his Facebook profile. Inset: his comment on Facebook saying the migrant rescue boat should be seized and sunken

On Malta’s social welfare agency boss Alfred Grixti’s Facebook page are the cover photos that proudly boast his lifelong Labour Party pedigree, with photos of leaders present and past, and his Catholic loyalty, with photos of him greeting Pope Francis, Archbishop emeritus Paul Cremona, and even lifting the St Dominic statue in Valletta.

But his inflammatory comments on migration this week fell fall short of both his public and personal beliefs: in a Facebook comment posted to the profile of a Labour Party candidate, the CEO of the Foundation for Social Welfare Services said migrant rescue boats should be “sunk” and left to their own devices. “The NGO vessels are operating illegally in Maltese waters... first impound them, then scuttle them!”

The comment was posted in a reaction to an original post by another person taking umbrage at the fact that a German-based migrant rescue charity was ‘directing’ migrants at sea to Malta’s direction after Italy had closed its ports. “Germany is not even taking them!” the person said.

Grixti later reacted to the MaltaToday story with a Facebook post saying “a recent Eurobarometer survey shows the absolute majority of Maltese and Gozitans do not have trust in the media.”

Grixti said the reactions to his original comment showed that he was referring to the seizure of the boats, and not to sinking the migrants on them.

In the flow of comments that followed, with many suggesting the rescued migrants should be denied entry to Malta, Grixti was prompt to reply that Malta should do “nothing… we seize their boat and we sink it!”.

The rest of the comments followed a predictable line of thought, with some even suggesting that this is what happens when a country “is not led by someone like Viktor Orban”, the Hungarian right-winger who has now consolidated power in the country with rule by decree due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The comments concerned the rescue vessel Alan Kurdi having been refused food and medicine after a 24-hour period of waiting for a response from the Italian coastguard. Migrant rescue charity Sea-Eye has reported that Italy tried to relay the call for help to Malta, with Malta’s rescue coordination responding: “Do not try to push this onto Malta,” according to the NGO.

Sea-Eye has said the Alan Kurdi is not suitable for the accommodation of the current 150 migrants and told coastguards that in the next 48 hours, food was going to be required. However, Libya, Italy and Malta have declared their ports unsafe and made clear their intention not to allow further disembarkations.

The Maltese navy was accused of sabotaging the migrant boat after an official from the P52 boat boarded the migrant vessel roughly 20 miles southwest of Malta and damaged the engine before leaving the boat to drift, a migrant said in a mayday call to the NGO Alarm Phone, which later shared an audio recording of the call with The New York Times. “The Malta military is coming and cut the cable of electricity for the motor,” a man can be heard saying. “They are not want anybody come to Malta — they say that.”

Malta allowed the disembarkation of over 60 migrants on Thursday night but wrote to the European Commission saying that the island does not have the necessary resources for mass rescues and said that its port would be closed for illegal migrants. “It’s not acceptable that we see multi-million rescue packages for the European industry, but at the same time, it’s claimed that there are no resources for the protection of migrants,” Gordon Isler, Sea-Eye chairman said in a statement on Friday.

The maritime rescue vessel sailed to northwestern Sicily on Friday to seek shelter from the incoming heavy weather.

This is not the first time that Grixti’s comments, both online and public, expose values that fall short of his expected persona as social welfare boss.

In 2018, the Women’s Rights Foundation called out statements he made [link removed from inewsmalta.com] for “victim-blaming” women in situations of domestic abuse and violence. The WRF said Alfred Grixti had effectively blamed women for “remaining” in situations of domestic violence, in an interview he gave to the newspaper It-Torca, when he claimed this was what led to femicide.

Grixti had also declared that his agency would not cooperate with the Women’s Rights foundation, which has long cooperated with social workers within the FSWS’s Agenzija Appogg and the Domestic Violence Unit, because WRF was supporting sexual and reproductive rights for women.

Grixti, appointed to the post of FSWS chief executive by the Labour administration in 2014, was formerly a Labour councillor of Haz-Zebbug.

Social workers: Grixti unfit for job

Malta’s association of social workers have said the CEO of the Foundation for Social Welfare Services was unfit for his job, saying it was unacceptable that the state agency charged with providing its services to the most vulnerable, expresses his opinion that the boats carrying these refugees should be sunk.

“This indicates a sentiment which is in complete contradiction to the Foundation vision of the organisation he heads, which states [that it will be] ‘a catalyst for change and development in the social welfare sector in Malta, consistent with the real and emerging needs of children, families and the community in order to avoid social exclusion’.

“The Foundation cannot work towards its vision if it is led by a person who does not believe in it.”

The MASW said the FSWS, a lifeline for vulnerable individuals and within which so many social workers work, could not have at its helm “persons whose views are consistent with its vision. Unfortunately, Mr Alfred Grixti has indicated clearly that his are not.”

The MASW said the pandemic was creating new vulnerable groups for economic, health, social and other reasons. “At the same time, the members of the world’s societies who started off as more vulnerable have had their suffering exacerbated. These include persons escaping intolerable situations in their countries. These are members of society who, in this difficult moment, also need our help.”

‘Completely unbecoming as social welfare services head’ – Dean of the Faculty for Social Wellbeing 

Faculty for Social Wellbeing dean Andrew Azzopardi said that comments made by Grixti are inappropriate coming from the head of social welfare services in the country. 

Azzopardi also said that expressing alleged contemptuous remarks, without falling into overt racism is “equally problematic”. 

“His remarks can easily incite and instigate violence in people whose expression of such sentiments does not stop at morally dubious claims but might escalate into violence,” Azzopardi said. 

He also called Grixti’s comments on the issue as “pitiful”, calling on Grixti to “dig deep into his stash of humanity and exercise the nuance and kindness befitting to anyone in his position.” 

“This country is in need of moral leadership that seeks the common good and not a dialectic of detestation especially from our community leaders,” Azzopardi concluded.