Abela pays tribute to foreign workers in speech marking 100 days as PM

Abela’s pinball speech hits all his targets: doubling-down on port closures for asylum seekers, he pays tribute to army and medics, foreign workers, and country’s resilience in the face of COVID-19

Photo posted by Robert Abela on his Facebook profile ahead of his 100 days speech
Photo posted by Robert Abela on his Facebook profile ahead of his 100 days speech

Malta’s prime minister Robert Abela has paid tribute to foreign residents in Malta who are also working on the frontline of the “battle” against the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a statement marking his first 100 days in office since the resignation of Joseph Muscat, Abela said he wanted to thank over 2,000 EU nationals working in public administration, defence, education, health and social services, and nearly 3,000 non-EU nationals.

But he used the occasion to mark his hardline stance to close the ports to asylum seekers, pushing the onus of responsibility on other EU members. “We have made it clear to the European Union and others that Malta cannot, in this unprecedented situation, welcome more irregular migrants onto our shores. I expect that we will move from discourse to action so that the principle of solidarity can be truly fulfilled by the member states of the European Union.”

Abela said Malta had always fulfilled its obligations to co-ordinate search and rescue, but used a failed bid by the civil society organisation Repubblika to ask the European Court of Human Rights to open Malta’s and Italy’s ports, to justify his decision “in order to protect the health of our people at this time of a public health emergency, as declared by the Superintendent of Public Health.”

He artfully used Repubblika’s criminal complaint against him and the commander of the armed forces, whom they accused of homicide after a migrant boat rescue coordinated by Malta resulted in the boat being sent back to Libya, with five dead and seven missing. “To run this country, you have to love it. We have never harmed Malta, nor will we do so. There are those who want to install fear and heartbreak, trying to get us sent to jail for life, but they will not stop us from continuing to defend our country and our people.”

He then lauded the role of foreign workers in Malta, with a special note for those who serve the public sector. “The sacrifice you are making every day is veritably immeasurable. In this hour of our greatest need, you are standing four-square with us. Far away from your own country and your families, you are giving your every hour to save the lives of Maltese and Gozitans. Let me assure you that your service to our Republic will not go unrewarded. You have earned the eternal gratitude of Maltese and Gozitan families.”

The script was a sharp U-turn from previous statements by his economy minister, who had to apologise for stating that “charity begins at home” at the start of the pandemic, in a reference to foreign workers in Malta.

“We will always remember how you stood beside the beds of our ailing parents, partners and children at great risk to your own health. We will always treasure your service with a smile, even behind the protective equipment you have to wear during seemingly unending shifts. You could have opted to go back to stand with your country of birth. If you had done that, most probably we would have lost our battle. Instead with unbelievable dedication you chose to stand with us. Because of you, our five thousand strong foreign legion, our nation will win its greatest challenge. You may have been born far from our shores, but after what you have done for us, you have proven you are an integral part of our nation. Thanks for standing besides the thousands of Maltese and Gozitan front-liners. We will be forever grateful and I promise to be there for you like you have been there for us.”

Even in his conclusion, as Abela hailed the thousands of health workers in Malta, the PM made sure to hail the police and the army, and most specifically the maritime squadron of the Armed forces, civil protection workers, and public cleansing workers involved in the fight against the pandemic. Even “third country nationals” got another honourable mention.

“When this crisis is over, we will not forget about our heroes, Maltese, Gozitans, European Union citizens and Third Country Nationals who are risking their lives on a daily basis so that the Maltese people are looked after. You are our heroes. I am proud of you. Together, unified as one family, showing solidarity. These are our values, whereas our country is being protected by its own people and helping out those who need help the most.”