Sharing our responsibilities


The Lampedusa tragedy was a tragedy waiting to happen. .

Human persons in need of help have been on our doorstep, Europe’s doorstep. The help they sought was not available.

Malta has a government which belongs to that family of political parties, the socialist family, which describes itself as being the champion of the vulnerable and the downtrodden. In migration policy, in just seven months, the Labour Party led government in Malta has failed miserably in living up to its core values.

At this point in time none are more vulnerable than migrants fleeing persecution: in particular Somalis and Eritreans who account for the vast majority of migrants at this doorstep of Europe. The Labour Party in Government is not interested in their plight. It is more interested in a populist discourse to impress its hangers-on. Labour’s populism has diluted its core values  beyond recognition.

Labour’s push-back policy was not implemented due to the timely intervention of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Those who think that  Joseph Muscat’s pushback policy was an exercise in bluff would do well to remember that  when still Leader of the Opposition Joseph Muscat had made statements on the need to suspend Malta’s international obligations if faced with large numbers of boat-people.

Many crocodile tears are currently being shed by those who in the past weeks advocated a hard-line inhumane attitude. Those who advocated push-backs are apparently shocked by what has happened.

Are they?

When we criticise the European Union for tackling immigration inappropriately we are also criticising ourselves as since May 2004 Malta and the Maltese are an integral part of the European Union. Malta forms part of each and every decision-taking structure within the European Union. Together with all the other member states Malta participates whenever a decision is taken.

The European Union needs a common migration policy which recognises that each and every refugee within its borders is its responsibility. The border states like Malta, Italy, Spain, Greece and Cyprus are shouldering a disproportionate responsibility which must be shared by all  members states.

So far, in the struggle between life and death the European Union (Malta included) has not opted to give adequate assistance to the living. As a result we are collectively responsible for the Lampedusa deaths. It is useless shedding tears for the dead if we did not respect them when they were still alive.

The Lampedusa tragedy was no accident. It is the direct consequence of the fact that on migration there is still a free for all in the European Union. A common policy is required to give flesh to practical solidarity and bury once and for all the culture of indifference.

The Greens in Europe are all in favour of responsibility sharing. That is, the recognition by European Union institutions that once a migrant crosses the EU borders he is its responsibility. Common borders are not just a tool for the payment of customs duties. A humanitarian migration policy is a must in every corner of the European Union. Crossing the border into the European Union should mean moving into an area which respects every human person, with no exceptions being permitted.

A first step would be amending what is known as the Dublin Convention such that the arrival of a migrant within any of the member states would not signify any more that he is restricted to remain in the country of arrival. Such an amendment to the Dublin Convention would facilitate the movement of migrants within the European Union and, consequently, their applying for refugee status, if this is applicable,  within any one of the member states.

This is the official policy of the European Green Party to which policy Alternattiva Demokratika has contributed considerably through constructive engagement with our European partners. The Greens in Europe are the only European Political Party which has fully appreciated the situation which EU border states are facing. Without any stamping of feet or smelling “pushover” coffee the European Green Party is the foremost proposer and supporter of an EU which shoulders its responsibilities through a policy of migration responsibility sharing.

The others just stamp their feet and indulge in inconsequential rhetoric interspaced with crocodile tears.

It is about time that the Nationalist Party and the Labour Party accept that their approach to migration has failed. They should take a leaf from the policy book of the European Greens and seek to convince their partners in the European Union of the need to share responsibility for migration with the border states.

Whether the Lampedusa tragedy will serve as a wake-up call is still to be seen. The comments from Jose Barroso and Cecilia Malmström at Lampedusa on Wednesday are good indications.

Well Muscat can smell that coffee now.

As published in The Times of Malta, Saturday 12 October 2013

Rocco and the ghosts of Eritreia

In 2004 Rocco Buttiglione was Silvio Berlusconi’s surprise choice for EU Commissioner.  Jose’ Manuel Barroso identified him as suitable for the post of Commissioner designate for Justice, Freedom and Security.

When grilled by the European Parliament’s Civil Liberties committee  Rocco Buttiglione stated that he viewed homosexuality as a sin.  I do not think that Tonio Borg will use the same fundamentalist vocabulary of Rocco Buttiglione. He is however on record during the parliamentary debate on rent reform as being one of those opposing tenancy rights for same sex couples on a level identical to those of heterosexual couples.

A substantial number of MEPs will certainly not be amused. One Rocco is more than enough.

If this was not enough Tonio Borg will have to give account of decisions taken in 2002 on the repatriation of Eritrean asyslum-seekers. They were sent back to be tortured in Eritreia.

A 2009 report published by Amnesty International is entitled “Eritreia: sent home to detention and torture.”

The following extract from page 7 of the said report does not require any comment:

“Malta forcibly returned 230 Eritrean nationals to Eritrea in 2002. They were detained on arrival in Asmara at the Adi Abeto detention centre, accused of betraying their country, and tortured as punishment. With the exception of children, some women, and those over the age of 40, those returned from Malta are believed to remain in incommunicado detention. About 30 of them were able to escape and they fled to Sudan in 2003. Amnesty International was able to collect their testimonies about detention conditions and torture. One escaped detainee said: “There were interrogation rooms and we were being called one at a time, with two guards, one asking the questions, the other doing the beating.” The Government of Malta stated that they had not received “any evidence that any ill-treatment was afforded to the Eritreans repatriated from Malta.” However, by February 2004 they had released all remaining Eritreans to non-custodial hostels to wait for resettlement. In December 2008, Malta and Eritrea agreed to “establish diplomatic relations” with a view to increasing co-operation between the two countries. This has raised concerns that Malta might again consider forcibly returning failed or non-assessed Eritrean asylum seekers.”

Tonio Borg has a lot of explaining to do.

originally published on, Friday 26 October, 2012