Serious action is needed
With the summer season on our doorstep, the daily news is once again dominated by the arrival of illegal immigrants. At the outset of the season, the numbers that are being recorded already give rise to serious concern and it looks like we are in for a very busy summer.
This phenomenon is not new to the Maltese islands and the armed forces have been put under a lot of strain because of the influx of immigrants we are witnessing.
We have arrived at a point where talk of solidarity is not producing any effective outcome and where serious action needs to be taken if we truly want to help these people who seek a better life on the shores of Europe.
Since the start of this influx, which dates back to the early 1990s, when the former Yugoslavia and Iraq were plagued with war, there has been much talk about the need for European countries to share the burden. It is, however, very worrying to note that these good intentions have not yielded any tangible results.
While various exponents have complained about the conditions in which the immigrants are living and about the lack of facilities in Malta, they have not proposed any solutions to the problems at hand, apart from opening the doors of the detention centres. Unfortunately, this approach does not alleviate the problem of illegal immigration.
Concrete action therefore needs to be taken by those who are in a position to take it.
Throughout the years, the Maltese government has improved the facilities and taken measures to protect the dignity of immigrants on the island. Yet, the problems persist and it is evident that Malta cannot solve them single-handedly. In these challenging times, support from the European community is crucial.
The European Union is built upon the concept of solidarity and just like Malta has acted in solidarity with other member states in the past it should also be in a position to rely on support from the community with regard to matters like these.
The importance of ensuring the dignity of illegal immigrants has been highlighted repeatedly. However, reality proves that this is turning into a more and more challenging task, as the burden is becoming unmanageable for the Maltese islands.
Europe has to take a serious stand. The first step should be to support Mediterranean countries by sharing the burden that they are confronted with. The second is to make significant investments in African countries in order to ameliorate the living conditions on the continent. This would, hopefully, make it possible for people to lead a better life in their homeland, which, in turn, would reduce the numbers of those people who opt to embark on a perilous journey to the European continent, driven by the hope for more opportunities.
I have had several opportunities to visit both the detention and the open centers and while it is clear that the administrators and the authorities are doing their best to make these premises as accommodating as possible, it is also clear that our resources do not permit us to do much more. If we had to estimate the number of immigrants to expect this summer, based on the numbers we have recorded over the past two weeks, then we are in for a very serious situation.
Malta has made its voice heard in the European Parliament but the feedback was not as satisfactory as one would have expected. Unfortunately, the solutions that have been proposed thus far have not been sufficient.
Given that Frontex has not been as successful as many had hoped it would be, it is increasingly evident that a new approach is needed. The EU must act in solidarity and it must do so as soon as possible in order to prevent the situation from deteriorating.
The other European member states have to commit themselves to some serious burden sharing and that means providing concrete logistical, financial and political support.
Membership of the EU was and still is the best solution for Malta and the island vigorously adheres to the rules and directives of the EU. In return, it is vital for the EU to act in solidarity with Malta in these challenging times.
The immigrants that arrive on our shores are human beings who deserve to be treated with dignity and who should be assured of our support so that they can have a more promising future ahead. And it is up to the entire community to ensure that our joint solidarity also reaches out to those beyond our borders.
Mr Casa is a Nationalist member of the European Parliament.