The solidarity challenge

New Deal for Somalia

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 

L-interess nazzjonali hu li nwaqqgħu l-ħitan

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Għandna bżonn inwaqqgħu l-ħitan li jifirduna u nibnu l-pontijiet.

L-iktar materja ovvja u ċara fejn dan hu meħtieġ illum hu dwar l-immigrazzjoni. Diġa hi problema kbira u ilha hekk għal diversi snin. Mhux biss ser tibqa’ iżda wisq nibża’ li ser issir problema ikbar milli hi illum.

In-nuqqas ta’ qbil huwa jekk għandiex dritt li nibgħatu lill-immigranti lura. Punt li jidher li ġie riżolt meta l-Gvern Laburista aċċetta l-ordni tal-Qorti Ewropeja tad-Drittijiet tal-Bniedem fi Strasbourg.

Jekk nitilqu minn dan il-punt u li dwaru issa naqblu lkoll ma naħsibx li baqa’ differenzi għax jidher li ilkoll naqblu fuq diversi affarijiet.

Naqblu li Malta hi vulnerabbli minħabba l-posizzjoni ġeografika tagħha.

Naqblu li m’għandniex riżorsi biex nilqgħu biżżejjed għall-impatti ta’ mewġa kontinwa ta’ immigrazzjoni mil-Libja, mhux biss kif inhi, iżda iktar u iktar jekk tiżdied.

Naqblu li l-għajnuna li ġiet mill-Unjoni Ewropeja matul is-snin, għalkemm m’hiex żgħira, m’hiex biżżejjed u li hemm ħtieġa li tiżdied biex tkun solidarjeta iktar effettiva u li tinħass verament li hi hekk.

Naqblu li wieħed mill-modi l-iktar effettivi ta’ għajnuna li neħtieġu hi li iktar pajjiżi mill-Unjoni Ewropeja jerfgħu l-piż magħna – responsibility sharing – billi jilqgħu f’pajjiżhom numru ikbar milli għamlu sal-lum tal-immigranti li jiġu f’pajjiżna.

Naħseb li naqblu ukoll li l-għajnuna li tista’ tagħti l-Unjoni Ewropeja lill-pajjiżi minn fejn qed joriġinaw l-immigranti tkun l-iktar għajnuna li tħalli effetti fit-tul għax tindirizza l-problema at source.

Nittama li nifhmu li dan kollu ma jiddependix biss mill-kapaċita tal-Gvern li jinnegozja ftehim tajjeb. Jiddependi ukoll mill-pressjonijiet soċjali fis-27 pajjiżi oħra li flimkien magħna jiffurmaw l-Unjoni Ewropeja. Għax l-Unjoni Ewropeja mhix dik jew dawk, hi aħna ukoll.

Nafu li f’diversi pajjiżi tal-Unjoni Ewropeja, anke’ dawk b’politika żviluppata tul is-snin li tilqa’ b’idejha miftuħa r-refuġjati ta’ kull nazzjon u kulur hemm problemi mhux żgħar.  F’uħud minn dawn il-pajjiżi hemm ukoll partiti politiċi li għandhom bħala skop ewlieni tagħhom it-tixrid tal-mibgħeda razzjali.

Għalkemm sforz tal-irjus sħan qed tingħata stampa ħażina tal-qagħda f’Malta nemmen li l-mibgħeda razzjali f’Malta m’għandhiex egħruq fondi.  Il-partiti politiċi għandna l-obbligu li ma nħallux dawn l-egħruq jissaħħu.

Għalhekk li issa iktar minn qatt qabel hu meħtieg li nwaqqgħu l-ħitan u nibnu l-pontijiet. Hemm ħafna oqsma ta’ qbil. Fuqhom nistgħu  nibnu flimkien strateġija nazzjonali dwar l-immigrazzjoni. Pontijiet li jinbnew bid-djalogu u li jwasslu għal kooperazzjoni wiesa’.

Dan hu l-interess nazzjonali.

Human Rights are not disposables

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Human Rights are an essential cornerstone of democratic society. They are an integral and indispensable element of our democratic landscape. They are not disposable. We cannot do without them.

Being a savage blow struck against human rights, Joseph Muscat’s pushback of immigrants to Libya hence strikes at the very core of our democratic credentials.

During Malta’s short 50 year history as a democratic state we have had more than our fair share of political bullies who considered that human rights were shackling their political manoeuvres. We surely do not need any more.

The migration problem is certainly much greater than Malta can possibly handle on its own. Financial assistance from the EU has always been welcome but this can only be a small part of the solution. There are other  essential elements which have to be tackled.

Many EU member states have been reluctant to assist in the resettlement of these refugees. The EU institutions have not been forceful enough in translating solidarity declarations into practical initiatives. Pilot projects, now discontinued, are certainly not enough.

The root causes of the displacement of hundreds of thousands must be appropriately addressed. These include political instability, dictatorial governments and Climate Change impacts. The EU, on its own as well as in conjunction with regional and global institutions could do much more than has been done to date.

On a local level we need to move on from rhetoric to practical political action to tackle this issue of national importance. There is room for close political cooperation between the three political parties. This however must be based on an unconditional respect of human rights. It is the only way to combat the spectre of racism in Malta.

Common sense, solidarity and an end to the culture of indifference should be the foundation stones of a national strategy on immigration. It is the only way forward.

Jum iswed għal Malta

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Il-bieraħ kien jum iswed għal Malta. Il-bieraħ il-Gvern immexxi minn Joseph Muscat wera li d-drittijiet tal-bniedem għalih huma materja sekondarja. Il-push-back tal-immigranti lura lejn il-Libja li Joseph Muscat ried jagħmel kien żball kbir.

Anke jekk kienet gimmick ikkalkulata biex triegħed l-istituzzjonijiet din il-mossa ta’ Joseph Muscat wriet li ma hemmx apprezzament  tad-drittijiet tal-bniedem fost il-membri tal-Gvern immexxi minn Joseph Muscat, bih b’kollox.

Id-drittijiet tal-bniedem ma tiċċajtax bihom. Id-drittijiet tal-bniedem huma ta’ kull bniedem lil hinn minn razza jew kulur tal-ġilda u Joseph Muscat u l-Gvern tiegħu m’għandhomx dritt jilgħabu bihom. Imma hekk għamlu.

Fl-ewwel okkazjoni serja li kellu, Joseph Muscat wera li hu bniedem li l-valuri ta’ soċjeta’ demokratika, għalih u għall-Gvern tiegħu m’għandhomx daqstant relevanza.

Kien jum li fih il-Gvern ta’ Joseph Muscat rema’ l-baħar ir-reputazzjoni ta’ Malta bħala pajjiż fejn nirrispettaw il-liġijiet u d-doveri internazzjonali tagħna.

Joseph Muscat qal li hu jerfa’ r-responsabbilta’ kollha. Hu żbaljat, għax ir-responsabbilta’ ser tintrefa miċ-ċittadini kollha ta’ dan il-pajjiż għax pajjiżna (sfortunatament) minn issa l-quddiem ser ikun meqjus bħal wieħed li ma tistax tafdah. Pajjiż li ma tafx fejn inti miegħu. Pajjiż li fih id-drittijiet tiegħek ma jirriżultawx mil-liġi iżda mill-burdata tal-Gvern.

Għad irridu nħallsu biz-zalza għal dan il-jum u l-iżball kbir li għamel Joseph Muscat. Żball li m’hux ser jitħassar b’gomma.

Skiet li jtarrax

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Il-Gvern, qal Joseph Muscat, qed iqis l-options kollha fil-każ tal-immigranti li daħlu illum mil-Libja.

Dan jinkludi l-option tal-push-back.

Il-fatt biss li ikkonsidra l-option tal-push-back, jiġifieri li jibagħat lill-emigranti lura fil-Libja ifisser li l-Gvern ikkunsidra li jikser l-obbligi internazzjonali li għandha Malta.

Dan jitfa dell kbira fuq il-kredenzjali demokratiċi ta’ Joseph Muscat u l-Partit tiegħu.

Qed insemmi lill-Partit tiegħu apposta. Għax ħadd mill-partit tiegħu ma qam f’din is-siegħa tal-prova. Ħadd ma qam u iddisassoċja ruħu minn Joseph Muscat. Ħadd ma qam u qal li Muscat hu żbaljat.

Jgħaddu s-snin u forsi xi ħadd jikteb biex jgħidilna li hu ma kienx jaqbel, iżda baqa’ sieket. Is-skiet tal-Membri Parlamentari u tal-Uffiċjali tal-Partit Laburista hu wieħed li jtarrax.

Il-ħtija hi kbira u mhix ta’ Muscat biss. Hi ukoll ħtija ta’ dawk kollha ta’ madwaru li jinkinawlu.

The Malta push-back to Eritrea

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Well Malta did carry out a push-back. Once upon a time way back in 2002.

Being very eager to be populist the EFA government repatriated 220 Eritrean citizens. These ended up imprisoned and tortured.

You may wish to read through the correspondence between Amnesty International and the then Minister Tonio Borg at the following link:

http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/EUR33/002/2004/en/7d3d5d34-d5c5-11dd-bb24-1fb85fe8fa05/eur330022004en.pdf

These are the consequences.

Immigration : an ethical compass

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Joseph Muscat’s recent outburst on his immigration push-back policy show’s what the man is really worth.

In a time of relative crises he has thrown overboard his ethical compass. He advocates a push-back policy: pushing back immigrants to their place of departure, that is Libya.

Apart from the fact that he does not have the means to carry out his threat, he has succumbed to the worst possible in politics. He has forgotten all about his principles which some time ago seemed to have been standing four square with the downtrodden.  All sweet words on solidarity have now found their way down the drain.

There is an ethical compass which shows the way in politics. This points towards doing the right thing, always, even if it signifies being unpopular.

It is not just a matter of principle.

It is also a right which enjoys protection in terms of the European Convention of Human Rights.

It would be pertinent to remember the Strasbourg decision delivered in February 2012 in the case of Hirsii Jamaa and others versus Italy.

Hirsii Jamaa had contested the validity of Silvio Berlusconi’s push-back policy. The European Court of Human Rights sitting as a Grand Chamber [with Maltese judge Vincent A. De Gaetano as one of its members] held that when Italy (then led by Silvio Berlusconi) returned migrants which it intercepted in the Mediterranean Sea to Libya it violated the migrants human rights.

It is about time that Joseph Muscat comes to his senses and gets his bearings right. Before more damage is caused to Malta’s reputation.