The COVID-19 pandemic has radically changed our lives. We’ve retreated indoors, lost our shops, while restaurants and bars have shut down. Some things have remained the same: we ate figolli on Easter Sunday, construction has continued, and people remain drowning in our seas.
Maltese families gorged on well-cooked lunches this Sunday while shocking news emerged that 85 asylum seekers could have perished a few miles away. However, the nation’s message was clear: let them drown.
The government has closed its ports to all asylum seekers and refugees, while third-country nationals lose their jobs with threats of deportation. Now 250 people, some of whom could already be dead, will float around with no food or water, with the backing of a vocal majority.
It’s not surprising that some commenters turn to racist vitriol to justify the blockade. What’s worse is that it isn’t surprising that Malta’s political leaders are growing far more callous when determining the fate of asylum seekers during times of crisis.
COVID-19 has seen remarkable acts of kindness in Malta, but it seems that even compassion has its limits in the supposedly staunchly Roman Catholic country.
People’s concerns are justified. Irregular migration is a complex issue, and it’s not easy to find an answer.
Both Italy and Spain, who are also religiously inclined, have also closed their ports. Libya has too, but due to the ongoing civil war. And in a sense, Foreign Affairs Minister Evarist Bartolo was right to say it was “unfair and unrealistic” to expect Malta to solve the problem by itself.
Mediterranean countries, once again, have been abandoned by the EU on the migration crisis. We’ve been expected to act alone, and it’s reflected in the abysmal state of the open and closed centres across the country; along with poorly planned attempts at actually integrating asylum seekers.
People are right to have their concerns, and an uncontrolled migration policy will only result in disaster.
But, that is still no excuse to let hundreds die a few kilometres away from our homes.
It’s our natural instinct to help others. We’ve seen it with the flood of images of acts of human kindness across our social media feeds, so why don’t we act upon it at the harshest of times?
Completing washing our hands of the bodies piling up on our shores doesn’t read as an act to protect the flock but rather a cynic reveal that kindness can only happen without the threat of consequence and the promise of publicity.
Besides, how can Malta expect to have any negotiating power in the EU when we’ve been an enfant terrible since joining in 2004.
We’ve had a Commissioner implicated in a million euro scandal, we’ve sold passports, we’ve failed to address severe corruption issues, and even spat in the face of the EU’s trapping regulations. It’s the political equivalent of taking a shit in the playpen then asking the other kids if you can play along.
Treating lives as a political tool will do nothing to endear Malta’s cause on a global stage. We need to put humanity ahead of self-interest once and for all.
The government hopes that blocking the arrival of asylum seekers will prevent any further burden on Malta’s healthcare system during the pandemic. Prime Minister Robert Abela has repeatedly said he does not want the country to end up like neighbouring Italy, where doctors have to choose between which patients to save.
The only difference is that they didn’t have a choice. We do have a choice and it seems we’ve made it.
It is only during times of crisis where we can show our true colours. We pride ourselves on our hospitality, warmth, and kindness, and it’s time to put that to the test.
250 lives hang in the balance. The migration issue might seem like a fight worth having, but today is not the day.