‘Jesus is on those boats’, Catholics make appeal over Malta hard-line migration stance

31 Catholic groups express shock at government decision to deny support to migrants in distress in Malta’s search and rescue area

A screen grab of a short video posted by the Spanish NGO SMH, which operates the rescue vessel Aita Mari
A screen grab of a short video posted by the Spanish NGO SMH, which operates the rescue vessel Aita Mari

Over 30 Catholic groups have expressed sorrow at the government’s decision to leave a boatload of migrants in distress adrift at sea in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“These are not the values that guided our nation and made us who we are. As Christians we need to be reminded that Jesus is on those boats,” Catholic Voices Malta said, in a statement representing 31 Christian groups.

The 31 groups commended the work done by the government, front-line healthcare professionals and workers and other professionals and workers in combating the spread of COVID-19, together with the efforts of volunteers who are supporting the front-liners, as well as those who were marginalized as a result of the pandemic.

Acknowledging the risks associated with an uncontrolled influx of migrants, and that Malta’s small size limited its capacity to assist, the groups said that “we cannot allow these concerns to be a justification for leaving our brothers and sisters in hardship and mortal peril, even more so when these fall within the search and rescue responsibilities of our country.”

The organizations said they were shocked at the decision taken by the government to deny support to migrants in distress in Malta’s search and rescue area, on the pretext that the ports are closed to everyone due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Whilst the protection of public health from the potential of further spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, Malta also had to fulfil its legal and moral obligation to save lives in distress, said the groups. “How can we call ourselves Christians and then leave people drowning at sea?”

Rescued immigrants should be quarantined for the recommended 14-day period, the groups said. “Then, in collaboration with the EU Commission, Malta should pursue a burden-sharing arrangement similar to those applied in the recent months.”

The organisations also appealed to the EU and its member states, asking them to be “more forthcoming” and not offer to share the burden “only after an unaided member state suffering a disproportionate burden resorts to brinkmanship.”

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