Abela says police presence needs to be stepped up but ‘cannot promise no street fights’

Robert Abela takes pot shot at Joe Giglio’s ‘populist rhetoric’, insists PN is inconsistent on issues related to migration and foreigners

Prime Minister Robert Abela (Photo: James Bianchi/MaltaToday)
Prime Minister Robert Abela (Photo: James Bianchi/MaltaToday)

Roberta Abela has hit out at Nationalist Party spokesperson Joe Giglio for positing “immediate deportation” of foreigners who cause mayhem as a solution to criminal behaviour.

Calling out what he described as the PN’s convoluted and inconsistent stand on the matter, the Prime Minister said deportation was a tool that the Maltese courts have used when the law permits it.

Abela accused Giglio of “populist rhetoric” and cautioned against adopting an “us versus them” mentality. The Prime Minister was speaking during an interview on ONE Radio, the party station, on Friday.

“I recently had talks with the mayors of Hamrun and Marsa to understand the realities of these localities but in the evening, Josef (the Marsa mayor) sent me a video of another fight in the locality, this time between Maltese people,” Abela said, adding this was an issue of law and order.

“This is a very sensitive issue and deportation is not a simple solution. Our law does permit it and whenever possible our courts have used deportation but it is not credible to have an Opposition spokesperson speaking in favour of deportation and in his professional capacity argues against it in court,” Abela said.

Giglio, who is the PN’s home affairs spokesperson, had called for the “immediate deportation” of foreigners involved in criminal activity and the use of soldiers to assist police in patrolling the streets. The statement came in the wake of a street brawl between a group of Syrian nationals in Hamrun’s main road.

But Giglio’s gung-ho attitude was brushed aside by PN leader Bernard Grech this week, who cautioned against making this an issue of Maltese versus foreigners. Grech instead laid the blame on government for the police’s lack of resources to ensure security in every locality.

This is the second time that Abela was forced to address the issue in the wake of inflamed discourse on social media directed at foreigners after the Hamrun fracas. Many have also blamed the government for the sudden increase in foreign workers over the past seven years.

Abela said foreign workers were essential to fill vacancies in the job market. 

“We have sent back hundreds of people to their countries because they did not merit or were not entitled to asylum. We have also closed the loopholes in the asylum system and addressed the issue of migrants with a residence permit obtained in another EU country who come here and overstay,” Abela said.

Unrealistic to promise no fights

But the Prime Minister also adopted a realistic tone when addressing the issues of law and order in certain localities.

“I cannot promise that there will be no fights because it is unrealistic but we need to increase the presence of the forces of law and order on the streets but this requires a coordinated response,” Abela said.

However, he also said part of the solution was a regeneration of areas like Marsa. 

“Populist statements that pitch Maltese against foreigners do not help… they do not provide mature solutions,” Abela insisted.

However, he then went on to reiterate the Labour government’s efforts since 2020 to stop the arrival of immigrants by coordinating with the Libyan authorities to prevent boat departures. These efforts have been criticised by human rights organisations since Libya is still not considered a safe place and migrants rescued by the Libyan coastguard and taken back to Libya are often subjected to ill-treatment.