A group of Maltese writers, translators and cultural operators have publicly voiced their protest against the Maltese Government’s plan to push back a number of Somali migrants who arrived on Maltese shores on July 10th. This was the second time this Summer that a boat bearing migrants had entered Maltese territorial waters. This time around, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat stated during a parliamentary sitting that the Government intended to send a number of these individuals back to Libya, from where such boats normally leave on their way to Europe.
The decision was only thwarted when the European Court of Human Rights, prompted by a petition from a number of Maltese NGOs, issued a prohibitory injunction which was delivered in writing during the parliamentary sitting that was debating this decision. The Government subsequently justified its about-face by stating that its action had been intended as a wake-up call to the European Union, which had not been doing enough to ensure burden-sharing among member states where irregular migration is concerned.
The political discourse surrounding this issue has since taken a partisan turn, with the Nationalist (Christian Democratic) opposition claiming the moral high ground (evidently forgetting the push-back of a large number of migrants back to Eritrea, enacted by a Nationalist Government in 2002, and subsequently condemned in a report by Amnesty International). The Labour Government led by Muscat has meanwhile been defended its decision on the grounds that it was in the “national interest”, when it seems clear that this was a populist measure designed to curry favour with certain sectors of the grassroots, where concerns about irregular migrants have been voiced for a long time, aided by the populist rhetoric of politicians.
This decision was carried out in flagrant violation of the rule of international law, which stipulates that such individuals have the right to make their case for asylum. But more importantly, it violates basic humanitarian principles, which the Maltese Government was clearly not disposed to entertain, except through the summary action of a European court of law. Equally clearly, however, the Government’s action has backfired on many levels, given its largely negative reception in the independent press, and the prompt action of members of civil society.
The group has written the following in a press release:
As citizens, authors and above all, human beings, we would like to express in the most categorical terms, our disapproval of the decision, or even the mere consideration, by the Maltese Government to push back the refugees that came to Malta, an action that would have placed these people’s lives in grave danger.
We feel that the Maltese Government, elected by the people, not only has the power but above all the moral duty to offer its protection to these people, who live in the most trying circumstances.
It is with dismay that we note the lack of human compassion displayed by Malta, as evidenced by the fact that this action was only stopped after an intervention by the European Court of Human Rights.
We believe that no discourse about the “national interest” can justify such an act, especially since these refugees were about to be sent back in breach of their fundamental right to make their case.
For this reason, as Maltese citizens, we dissociate ourselves from this decision because we are convinced that it is in violation of all principles of human dignity.
Immanuel Mifsud, Karl Schembri, Albert Gatt, Clare Azzopardi, Claudia Gauci, Adrian Grima, Antoine Cassar, Gilbert Calleja, Virginia Monteforte, Simon Bartolo, Walid Nabhan, Marco Scerri, Caldon Mercieca , Elizabeth Grech, Tyron Grima, Annalise Falzon, Nadja Mifsud, Mark Vella, Leanne Ellul, Glen Calleja, Keith Azzopardi, Priscilla Cassar, Simone Spiteri, Maria Grech Ganado, Simone Inguanez, John Portelli, Alex Vella Gera, Mario Vella.