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Of bigots and prostitutes

“We were beaten and mostly were tied in the ‘helicopter’ position and tortured in groups of 10 to 15. We were tied up day and night, except for three short food and toilet breaks. I was tied up for two weeks. One of us got very ill with bronchitis and there was no medical treatment… Some got paralysed in the arms and legs.”

These were the words of an Eritrean deported from Malta in October 2002, speaking of detention in Adi Abeto prison.

Two hundred and twenty Eritreans were “packed” by the Maltese government and sent back to their country to face torture, in hell. This was under the premiership of Eddie Fenech Adami, whose erstwhile deputy was Lawrence Gonzi and his Home Affairs Minister, Tonio Borg.

The quote above was taken from a damning report by Amnesty International, who investigated the case of the deportees from Malta.

The people who are taking offence at the Labour leader’s strong words – against politicians, not immigrants, by the way – are the same who were responsible for repatriating these 220 men, who went through the worst forms of torture in Eritrea.

When the Amnesty International report was published in 2004, Dr Gonzi, who became Prime Minister that same year, shrugged it off, saying that in 2002 Eritrea was declared “a safe place”. Worse still was a statement from his office saying: “The fact that the allegations made to Amnesty International about torture were only made by four deportees from 220 confirms how correct the Maltese government’s decision was at the time.”

That is why I am incredulous when the Prime Minister speaks of not letting Malta prostitute its values. The same tone was used by a few of his cronies, almost suggesting the Opposition Leader would be killing every baby, mother or father who fled the Gaddafi regime.

For those who made these comments, including the Prime Minister, I have only one word to describe them: bigots.

Joseph Muscat suggested that, since Italy accepted it broke its legal obligations when it failed to rescue 170 immigrants and let them in at Lampedusa, the immigrants should be sent back to Italy. If this can be interpreted as some sort of inhuman treatment, Dr Gonzi, with his record of the tortured Eritreans, has warped priorities.

The Gonzi spin machine went into overdrive trying to demonise Dr Muscat, only because the Labour leader exposed the Prime Minister for what he is: weak and a total failure in dealing with the immigration crisis.

Nationalist MEP Simon Busuttil, whose words in the EU about immigration are proving to be nothing more than hot air, went as far as to suggest Dr Muscat should resign for taking a strong approach on how to deal with the issue of immigration. This is the same man who was part of the Nationalist government in 2002, churning out reams of EU/PN propaganda, when his political masters were deporting 220 Eritrean immigrants back to hell. Did Dr Busuttil call then for Dr Fenech Adami’s or Dr Gonzi’s resignation? Dr Busuttil’s tantrums are only a way to try and divert attention from the fact that all his gloating about “massive” achievements for Malta on immigration has fallen flat on its face.

Dr Gonzi had in 2008 flaunted the infamous EU Immigration and Asylum Pact and had the gall to say the pact was a “huge victory for Malta”.

Three years down the line and the EU’s solidarity meant that, in all, the EU countries voluntarily took 300 immigrants out of more than 4,500 who landed in Malta during the same period. On the Nationalist Party’s radio, the Prime Minister said this was a big achievement and that this shows the Immigration Pact worked. Such a statement only starts to explain the mediocrity of his premiership.

Being tough where and when it matters does not constitute prostituting values in my book.

But bigotry and lies from the GonziPN camp are far closer to Dr Gonzi’s explanation of what prostituting values mean.

The author is the Labour Party’s director of communications.

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