President says no to deportations: ‘We do not condemn persons helping to build our prosperity by sending them back’

Marie Louise Coleiro Preca’s Republic Day speech opens with clear indictment of government deportation of migrants who spent years in Malta without being removed 

File photo: President Marie Louise Coleiro Preca
File photo: President Marie Louise Coleiro Preca

At 3,000 words, it was a brief address. But between saluting Malta’s presidency of the European Council, and proclaiming a long life to the Republic, Marie Louise Coleiro Preca was adamant to send Joseph Muscat’s government, and the Nationalist opposition, and the rest of Maltese society, a strong admonishment against racism and hatred.

Immediately in the opening lines to the speech celebrating Malta’s 42nd year as a republic, Coleiro Preca was placing her hands on the pulse of a nation ill at ease with itself: politics about to reach fever pitch, angry palpitations inside the social media swamp, and xenophobic nationalism rearing its head.

Her diagnosis was a stark one:

“Material shortcomings, social exclusion; the threat to the quality of life resulting in development which is not always sustainable; the overcrowding of residential areas; the limitation of public spaces; noise and traffic delays; and the scarcity of honesty and truth in political life, are amongst the issues that are of concern to the Maltese of goodwill in our country, who would like to see a future Republic which is better than what we have today.”

Without pausing for breath, her opening lines were an indictment of the Muscat administration’s joint-European deportation of some 33 long-term migrants from Malta who had long been slated for removal, who had built employment and social bonds in Malta.

“As a guardian of the Constitution, I believe that Malta should continue to host all those who live among us, or those who come to visit us, with the utmost love and respect. I am morally convinced that we should appreciate, and not condemn, persons who are helping to build our prosperity, and who form part of our society, by sending them back.”

She was clear about giving no quarter to those who sought to join a democratic debate without the right credentials to uphold that same democracy.

“During the past twelve months, the tension amongst us, as well as between those who consider themselves Maltese and those who are regarded as alien, continued to flourish. Those who present demographic and economic reasons normally make provision for a calm, mature and reasoned debate. But the same cannot be said for those who embrace racist views.”

In a prognosis for a healthy democratic rebirth, Coleiro Preca extolled the need to achieve maturity and civility.

 “If we are going to take to the streets, we must continue in our path of reconciliation, hope, solidarity and collectivity. If we are going to protest, we will protest against xenophobia, racism, social exclusion and the exploitation of workers for profit. If we are going to celebrate, we will applaud the increase of civil rights, laws which are less discriminatory, laws which protect a life of quality; which safeguard human dignity; and which promote economic, cultural and social inclusion as well as equal opportunities for all.”

She paid tribute to the Maltese Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as “the guiding light in our pursuit of righteousness”, even calling upon educators and leaders to bestow the sprit of these two documents upon their students and followers.

Society and economy

While lauding Malta’s high rate of economic growth, the increase in jobs and reduction of unemployment, as well as the curtailment of national debt and the increase in the participation of women and the disabled in the workforce, Coleiro Preca regretted the existence of families struggling to make ends meet.

“It would be an atrocity for our Republic if we do not take advantage of this positive economic growth in order to remove the barriers between social-economic anomalies,” Coleiro Preca said, in an appeal to politicians to take note of the parallel lives of people in Malta: haves reaping the benefits of foreign wealth, and have-nots still distant from the trickle-down.  

“A caring republic does not accept the theory that a healthy economy, which attracts local and foreign investment, should be based on hardworking persons who are paid a pittance. 

“Exploitation should have no roots in a truly ethical and moral structure, and therefore correct practice in this sector calls for the exploitation of these workers to be seriously condemned by the competent authorities,” the President said, saying the writing had long been on the wall to raise the minimum wage.

“The precarious worker, living in a state of constant uncertainty, cannot wait any longer.”

She also touched upon the rising rental prices of property, reminding politicians and businessmen that “a just republic” does not force families to live under the same roof since they cannot afford high rental rates or, worse, are rendered homeless.

“The market always seeks profit. Therefore, it is the State’s obligation to ensure that the citizens of this country have access to habitable spaces with social rates. As the burden on individuals and families in this sector continues to increase, the competent authorities should step up the projects of new buildings as well as the refurbishment of existing buildings for social accommodation and ensure that these are ready as soon as possible.”

‘Tension on environment’

Coleiro Preca called for a cooling in the tension on the environment debate, calling for more dialogue and to put quality of life at the centre of the planning and development process.

“Whenever I meet up with children, which is often enough, they always complain that there is a lack of open spaces where they can play… If we persist on this trajectory, future generations will not pay us homage. We cannot continue to enjoy the present moment with complete disregard to the rights of future generations.”

She also signalled an impending waste crisis for the island due to its extensive consumption, calling it another aspect of Malta’s environment which is detrimental to people’s health.

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