Muscat on Freedom Day: no detention of child migrants

Emotional Coleiro Preca toasts intellectual emancipation from colonialism – Muscat: Malta’s challenge is fight against prejudice, but says “migrants’ integration must be manageable, small numbers”

Joseph Muscat and his wife Michelle atop the Freedom Day monument in Birgu (Photo: Ray Attard)
Joseph Muscat and his wife Michelle atop the Freedom Day monument in Birgu (Photo: Ray Attard)

It was 35 years ago to the day, that a 20-something Marie Louise Coleiro Preca, then assistant secretary-general of the Labour Party, saw Dom Mintoff and the head of the General Workers Union walk up the Freedom Day monument on the day of the departure of the last British warship in 1979.

It was fitting then, that one of her last speeches as minister took place at the same spot, on the eve of a presidency which she declared had to “unite the people” and encourage them to put aside political differences.

Stealing the show at the end of the evening was however Joseph Muscat’s earnest challenge to prejudice and his commitment to fight the detention of child migrants – even though he said any form of integration of migrants from Africa would have to be “manageable, in small numbers”.

It was an emotional display of honesty from Coleiro Preca, a Labour veteran. It came at the end of a cringing display of token songs with ‘freedom’ as their theme (Lennon’s Imagine for example) and historical reels of Mandela, King and Walesa, and finally Mintoff playing to the audience.

“Freedom Day is not simply the day that saw the departure of the last British warship,” Coleiro Preca started. “It was the culmination of a long process that was rife with division, infighting and even despair... to me it was social, economic, intellectual and cultural freedom from a colonial mentality, and the development of foreign relations with many other countries,” she said.

Such triumphs, she said, was the development of an economic base that allowed such rudimentary welfare institutions like maternity leave and minimum wage to take root, the introduction of a broader foreign policy to develop trade and friendship with other countries – such as China, a friendship Malta has now rediscovered – but more importantly, confidence in the Maltese spirit.

“It showed us that we would not allow ourselves to be engulfed by other powers. It gave us a will and determination to forge ahead, strengthen ourselves as a nation, choose our own road... we’re no longer in a state to bicker. Much as our Independence was a national triumph and an instrument of national emancipation, Freedom Day is a triumph of the spirit of a people that for 2,000 years resigned itself to live under the shadow of a foreign power,” Coleiro Preca said.

“Let us understand that only a united country can take on the challenges it faces. Let us honour our forefathers and appreciate the national events of this year, to understand who we are today,” she said.

In a sincere appeal, the president-designate called on her audience to cherish the unity of the Maltese. “Let’s make our nation a model our children can be proud of, and remember the bravery of our forefathers.”

‘Manageable migration’

Joseph Muscat took the podium for his toast to the Freedom Day celebration, putting forward two challenges the Maltese had yet to face – freedom from prejudice and the challenge of migration. But here he set the tone to new clues into his asylum policy.

“We are only just realising it – we must respect the diversity amongst ourselves. We have many different forms of families, single parents out of choice and against their will, children without parents, couples without children, same-sex families... who have the right to be free from interference in their private lives. This fight against prejudice has yet to be won,” Muscat said.

“We must respect individuals’ choice... not to pity them or mock them, this is real freedom,” Muscat said.

Muscat then turned to government’s asylum policy, which he described as a “deterrent” that was meant to serve as an administrative process for asylum claims. “Yet this must not be an excuse to deny these people of their basic rights,” he said, mindful that the reels of King and Mandela could not be allowed to play out without a reference to migration.

“We must give people the chance of integration in our society... an integration that is manageable, in small numbers. We must be politically strong, we must not allow ourselves to be taken for granted or allow these people to be ‘lost’ inside our country... but we must also look deep inside our conscience.

"Dignity does not mean saving people from death and caging them," he said, in the same breath that he declared that "the EU’s immigration policy has failed.”