Risks of racism, xenophobia
The incident in which Mamadou Kamara, a Malian migrant, was allegedly killed while in the custody of the authorities is alarming.
I will not ponder on the case itself. That is for our justice system to do and it is good that it has immediately sprung into action with a number of people arraigned and an inquiry promptly launched.
I have consistently supported our armed forces for an excellent job in very difficult circumstances. Over the years, they have saved thousands of migrants from the jaws of death.
And we owe it to many a hero in our forces who have readily risked their own lives to save that of others on the high seas.
But this incident raises serious concerns that cannot be ignored.
The most grave ramification is the dastardly resurgence of racism and xenophobia. For the nature of this incident and of some of the reactions to it have brought back this reality right to the fore.
It is a serious problem and it has been evident for quite some time.
It ranges from the nature of many a comment on this esteemed newspaper’s online portal to some dodgy Facebook groups. But it also includes populist rhetoric dished out by some politicians that serve no purpose other than to foment further racism and xenophobia. Sadly, the Labour Party has fallen prey to this dangerous game at its highest levels.
Where does all this leave us?
It leaves us with a society, supposedly renowned for its friendliness and hospitality, imperceptibly poisoned by fear and hatred, a society that risks losing its compassion and its sense of humanity.
We cannot let this happen. For racism and xenophobia lead to a vicious circle.
Migrants are first shunted and marginalised and they end up in situations of poverty and deprivation which, in turn, trigger further racist sentiments. And we end up all the poorer as a society. So what should we do? Malta’s situation is particular.
For nearly a decade now, we have been facing disproportionate pressures with a migratory influx that reaches us because of our geographic position. Our society has been overwhelmed and the situation has steadily given rise to fear. Hence, to racism and xenophobia.
But we can still overcome them. Firstly by not succumbing to fear and to populist rhetoric. This takes strength and resilience, courage and determination, which are not easy to come by. But we are not shorn of them either. Second, by addressing the ignorance from which xenophobia often emanates.
We need to raise the level of awareness on why migrants leave their country and why they arrive here in the first place. We need to explain why we have no control over the numbers who cross but why we still have a duty to save people’s lives and to bring them to shore. We need to explain our unstinting work to reduce the numbers who arrive without forgetting our responsibility, as a civilised nation, to take good care of those we save.
Many people become migrants because they are fleeing for their lives and looking for protection. They are not coming here because they want to live off our taxes or to impose their habits and culture on us. Many will eventually move on and thousands have already done so. But, yes, some will stay and will need to be integrated into our society.
We need to explain better why the phenomenon is as volatile as it is temporary. It can ebb away as quickly as it comes. It depends not just on the situation in the countries of origin but also on the situation in countries through which they transit, such as Libya.
Stability and rule of law in Libya are key and last weekend’s first democratic election will, hopefully, be a first step in that direction.
But awareness alone is not enough. It must go hand in hand with an immigration and asylum policy that is as humane as it is firm. A policy that assures people that the authorities are doing everything within their power to deal with the situation effectively, despite the obvious constraints of our limited resources.
A policy that reduces the numbers without jeopardising lives. That protects those who need protection but that firmly returns those who have no right to stay. That ropes in the solidarity of other countries to help us share this grave responsibility, difficult as it might be.
This is indeed what the authorities in Malta have been doing over the past years. And their efforts have been laudable.
It is this policy that I too have been pursuing as your representative in the European Parliament over the past years. I could have easily turned a blind eye and followed a less controversial issue. But I did not.
Mamadou Kamara cannot have died in vain. His death must serve as an eye-opener to us all about the real challenges that we face as a society.
Before it is too late.
We do not need to be divided on this too.
Dr Busuttil is a Nationalist member of the European Parliament.