Prime Minister Joseph Muscat lights the flame at the bottom of the Freedom Monument in Vittoriosa last night. Photo: Jason BorgPrime Minister Joseph Muscat lights the flame at the bottom of the Freedom Monument in Vittoriosa last night. Photo: Jason Borg

Government is mulling “some form of structure” to take migrant children out of detention and help them integrate in society.

It was Prime Minister Joseph Muscat who hinted at this development yesterday in a short speech to commemorate the 35th anniversary of Freedom Day.

He did not elaborate and failed to explain how migrant children were being kept in detention when it is policy to release minors from detention almost immediately.

But he said this would be one of the last acts of president-to-be Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca in tomorrow’s Cabinet meeting.

Addressing Labour Party supporters and functionaries at the foot of the Freedom Day monument in Vittoriosa, Dr Muscat told them the next big challenge was to strive for “freedom from prejudice”.

He highlighted the plight of different families and migrant children, insisting that change was not just about enacting laws but fostering respect for those who are different.

Receiving muted applause, Dr Muscat said the place of migrant children was not in “prison”. “Can we sleep with our heads at rest when we know there are children living in camps? Would our forefathers have been proud of us had we told them that we keep children prisoners?”

While acknowledging that Malta had to have some form of deterrent, Dr Muscat said there had to be more focus on integration of migrants.

He called on the EU partners to help Malta manage the problem because “the numbers are big” but his politically tough talk was mellowed by a call for compassion.

“We understand this country needs some form of deterrent but this must not be an excuse to deny immigrants their basic rights,” he said.

Taking a leaf from the video clips of great leaders like Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King that were played throughout the evening with messages against racial prejudice, Dr Muscat said it would be hypocritical for those present to ignore the fact that a couple of kilometres away there were people locked up in cages. “We have to ask ourselves is this what we really want? We have to start speaking of integration but this also means having manageable numbers,” he said.

Dr Muscat also referred to different family forms and insisted it wasn’t laws but “love” that determined what family was.

Mentioning single-parent families, childless couples and same-sex families, Dr Muscat said it was the Labour Party’s role to put forward an agenda based on civil rights.

Speaking before Dr Muscat, president-to-be Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca spoke of the significance of Freedom Day, whichshe described as the culmination of a long political process.

Ms Coleiro Preca said all national events were links in the same chain. “Independence was a national triumph because it gave birth to a nation, Freedom Day was the triumph of a mentality that cut loose its dependence on others.”

She ended her speech with the words, “Viva Malta Maltija.”

Ms Coleiro Preca, who read out her speech to avoid being overcome by emotion, was overwhelmed when members of the Labour Party executive presented her with a gift as a thank you for her 40-year political career.

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