[WATCH] ‘Malta is not the solution to all of Africa’s problems,’ Byron Camilleri says

Xtra on TVM | Home Affairs Minister Byron Camilleri and Opposition MP Beppe Fenech Adami lock horns on migration and the running of prison 

National Security Minister Byron Camilleri
National Security Minister Byron Camilleri

Migration is a thorny issue and this was on full view on TVM’s Xtra as Home Affairs Minister Byron Camilleri clashed with his Nationalist counterpart.

Camilleri was matter-of-fact when asked point blank how he could justify government’s tough stand in light of the humanitarian issues involved.

He insisted there was a limit to how much the country can do. “Malta is not the solution to all the problems of Africa,” Camilleri replied.

He defended Prime Minster Robert Abela’s tough stand on the matter, insisting that no one had the intention of letting people drown.

“Robert Abela meant that when we go to the EU, we have to be firm on our position – and our position among others, is to help Libya because it’s the only way that we can reduce the burden on Malta – so we have to be firm and we have to go there with the message that we are full up,” he said.

But his counterpart, Opposition MP Beppe Fenech Adami attributed Malta’s migration problems to what he described as government’s short-sighted economic strategy that relied on an influx of foreign workers.

The Opposition MP said Abela’s statement that Malta was full up contradicted the government’s previous philosophy on foreign labour.

“History teaches us that you reap what you sow… Today Robert Abela is talking about Malta being full up, but Robert Abela forms part of a government that until a few weeks ago had a different leader who was trying to convince people that we needed immigrants for the economy and to pay our pensions,” Fenech Adami said.

PN MP Beppe Fenech Adami
PN MP Beppe Fenech Adami

He also warned that if by full up the Prime Minister meant Malta can abandon its human rights obligations, or ignore international laws, then the government had lost its moral compass.

Camilleri shot back, accusing Fenech Adami of confusing regular migration with illegal immigration.

He said regular migrants often go back to their countries of origin if their jobs cease to exist, and are never a burden on the State. Illegal immigrants, on the other hand, remained Malta’s responsibility irrespective of their employment status, or economic conditions.

Fenech Adami called for more dialogue with the EU so that Malta could receive assistance, although he warned that if Abela’s government continued to take actions that flout or disregard international laws and conventions, Malta’s negotiating position will be weakened. 

The Nationalist MP also criticised what he described as populist rhetoric by government, arguing that choosing to incite sections of society against migrants was irresponsible.

Camilleri vehemently denied this accusation, but warned that politicians need to be realistic about the issue of immigration, or else risk becoming irrelevant.

Prison discipline

Both politicians also locked horns on the running of the Corradino Correctional Facility, which has for the past three years adopted a disciplinarian approach.

Camilleri praised the changes that took place within Malta’s prison system, claiming that discipline was introduced for the first time in years.

“In the last months and years now, there is finally discipline and respect towards authority in the prison. This works hand-in-hand with rehabilitation of prisoners; I don’t believe that you can have one without the other,” Camilleri said.

Prison has been run for the past three years by retired army colonel Alexander Dalli, who adopted a military-style approach.

However, Fenech Adami decried what he said is a discipline system based on fear.

“It is a mistake that we are using a disciplinary model based on the principle of fear. The model that is being operated in our prison to bring about discipline and reform is one that experts know is an expired one, that should not be used in our prisons in the modern world in 2020,” Fenech Adami insisted.

The Nationalist MP also spoke out about the number of deaths that have occurred in the prison in recent times, with 10 prisoners having died in the span of a few months.

Fenech Adami expressed scepticism at the official explanation of these deaths – which said that all the prisoners had underlying conditions – and questioned why Camilleri had not looked into the circumstances behind these deaths.

Camilleri refuted this charge.

“I did carry out an analysis of the deaths in prison, and the result is that the absolute majority of these, as the magisterial inquests show, were natural deaths,” he said.

The Minister insisted that the magisterial inquests should be the only source of information in this regard, and reiterated that none of them, with the exception of a case that goes back to 2012, found any evidence of wrongdoing from the side of prison officials. 

Camilleri acknowledged that the correctional facility may not be perfect, but the situation is better than it ever was.