The boats and dinghies departing from the Libyan coast are a stiff challenge to the solidarity which Malta has traditionally shown towards all those who required it.
The departures from the Libyan coast are controlled by criminal gangs who are cashing in on the suffering of men, women and children fleeing from their countries for a multitude of reasons, seeking a better quality of life and fleeing persecution.
The boats and dinghies represent their future hopes. For some it has meant death. Battered by the rough seas some make it to their destination, the Italian mainland. Others end up on our shores.
The number of arrivals is on the rise. There is a limit to what this country can take. But the limit is a physical one as the duty to put solidarity in practice has no limits.
Malta always offered practical solidarity to those in distress as we have always felt that it is our duty to uphold the dignity of all human beings irrespective of their country of origin or race. Offering hospitality is not and should never be conditional on whether others help us in shouldering our responsibilities. We do it as a nation because it is the right thing to do.
There is so much more that Malta could do if we are assisted by our EU partners. So far there has been substantial assistance in monetary terms. This has been utilised to improve Malta’s rescue capabilities as well as in providing decent places where immigrants are housed. But this is certainly not enough.
There has been talk of looking towards the South. Last Monday Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has also been involved in talks with the Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta as the challenge we face is not just ours, it is a regional one.
The involvement of Libya is not without its problems. Libya, as also emphasisied by Prime Minister Letta on Monday, is not yet a signatory of the Geneva Convention on the status of refugees. Human Rights, in addition, are not an area with which the Libyan state is familiar yet. Having secure Libyan borders just shifts the problem from the Mediterranean to Libyan soil.
The real solution lies much further south then Libya. It lies in the countries of origin of the boat people whom Malta and Italy have saved from the perils of the sea. Some are Somali, others are from Ethiopia, Eritreia or other countries.
65% of the 1890 boat people arriving in Malta in 2012 were Somali.
The European Union is in fact already acting in this direction. In collaboration with the government of Somalia the EU will shortly be convening an international conference to endorse a New Deal with Somalia that aims to develop a set of key priorities and support the reconstruction of Somalia over the next three years. It is the way that the international community makes good on its promises of support to the Somali people. The healing of the scars resulting from a long civil war takes considerable time.
Through the New Deal for Somalia the EU is assisting the reconstruction of Somalia, an essential prerequisite in creating the infrastructure which is necessary to ensure that all Somali citizens are protected and can partake of an adequate quality of life in their own country. Once the reconstruction of Somalia with EU assistance is in place there will be no further reason for large numbers of Somalis to flee their own country. Some will undoubtedly want to consider returning to take part in the transformation of Somalia, getting it ready to participate as an equal partner in the international family of nations.
Helping Somalia to help herself. This is EU solidarity at its best.
The EU has already helped in training Somali soldiers. It has also invested heavily in maritime security off the Somali coast contributing to a substantial reduction of piracy which has been of international concern for years.
The next steps will necessitate Somalia doing a deal with its global partners to clear its huge financial arrears and put in place international aid programmes to help establish the Somali government’s legitimacy.
The EU has been looking at long term solutions. Unfortunately it did not give sufficient attention to the short term problems which primarily Malta and Italy have been facing. The human suffering generated needs to be addressed immediately.
Malta and Italy should not be left on their own to manage the impacts which have been generated by migration. A common strategy to manage the extreme pressures caused by the seasonal increase in the arrival of asylum seekers in Southern Europe is essential until such time that the long term measures which the EU has initiated in Somalia have the desired effect.
This is the solidarity challenge which the EU is facing. And the EU is not them. It is us as well.
Published in The Times of Malta, 20 July 2013