The cemetery watchman

Malta rightly accused Italy of being in breach of international law when it closed the Lampedusa port to NGO vessels on rescue missions in the central Mediterranean. In the aftermath of the MV Lifeline debacle, Malta then proceeded to follow suit by closing all Maltese ports to NGO vessels. Matteo Salvini, the bully next door, has publicly pressured Malta’s government to submit to his values: those same values which ignore human dignity.

We have been bombarded with the news that the EU Council of Ministers has agreed to, and endorsed, Malta’s position on migration. This is not correct as the EU Council of Ministers only reiterated that, at most, they would consider solidarity as being only voluntary in nature. There is nothing new in such a statement. We have known about it for ages: since the days when Lawrence Gonzi was the tenant at Auberge de Castille!

Malta’s Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, is now almost on the same wavelength as Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurst, and Italy’s puppet Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, soon to be joined by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, forced into submission by her CSU coalition partner Interior Minister Horst Seehofer. All of them “tolerate” solidarity, as long as it is only practised by others.

The theatrics resorted to by Muscat to ensure an adequate participation in offering hope to the immigrants on board MV Lifeline were understandable, even though the 234 human beings on board suffered for long days in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea until nine states made up their mind to shoulder their responsibilities.

This was, however, followed by criminal action initiated against the captain of MV Lifeline as the sacrificial lamb on Joseph Muscat’s altar to populism. It seemed that Joseph Muscat had to counter-balance his good deed, when he permitted MV Lifeline to dock at the Senglea wharf.

Those who continuously risk their lives in trying to save the life of others end up at the wrong end of the stick. The order that NGO sea-going vessels do not navigate through the rescue area under Malta’s responsibility, even if falsely camouflaged as a temporary measure, gave a free hand to the Libyan coastguard to “carry out its duty”, that is to ensure that those who try to leave Libya have only two possible destinations: Libyan detention centres or the seabed.

To ensure that death by drowning is the only practical choice, the Maltese government has now also stopped the search and rescue aircraft operated by NGO Sea Watch and the Swiss Humanitarian Pilots Initiative. The aircraft has been involved in the rescue of 20,000 human beings.

The inevitable question is : Why is it happening? Hungarian sociologists Vera Messing and Bence Ságvári in their study entitled Looking behind the Culture of Fear. Cross-national analysis of attitudes towards migration. which was published under the auspices of the German social democratic foundation Friedrich Ebert Stiftung and the European Social Survey, last March, sought an answer to this question.

“Anti-migrant attitudes have little to do with migrants”, concluded Messing and Ságvári. “People in countries… with a high level of general and institutional trust, low level of corruption, a stable, well-performing economy and high level of social cohesion and inclusion (including migrants) fear migration the least,” the authors note. On the other hand: “People are fearful in countries where people don’t trust each other or the state’s institutions, and where social cohesion and solidarity are weak.”

It is indeed unfortunate that the major political families have been contaminated by this culture of fear, thereby rendering themselves hostages to the bullies around us, as a result promoting a culture of death.

Malta’s geographic position is a given: it is non-negotiable. Instead of being bullied to passively supervise the cemetery developing around us, we can be proactive and encourage others to join us in being a port of hope in the centre of the Mediterranean. That has always been our mission, to the extent that one of the best descriptions of Maltese hospitality is the one attested to by St Luke in the Acts of the Apostles when describing St Paul’s shipwreck: “the natives showed us unusual kindness for they kindled a fire and welcomed us all”.

Unfortunately, closing our ports to NGO-operated vessels on rescue missions (after the one-off MV Lifeline debacle) indicates that Joseph Muscat, prodded by Matteo Salvini, has discarded hope and has instead opted for the role of a cemetery watchman.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 8 July 2018

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