New Spanish Socialist prime minister Pedro Sanchez has done what the Maltese and Italian governments refused to do; save lives.
Amid the accusations and machoism coming out of Valletta and Rome, Spain shamed Malta and Italy by opening its doors to 629 human beings stranded at sea, including more than 100 children.
Sanchez should be commended for his act of internationalist solidarity and hopefully Spain shows the same humanity in its enclaves in Morocco where asylum seekers are often pushed back by armed soldiers standing behind the fenced walls of Melilla and Ceuta.
But lets for a moment consider what would have happened if Spain did not did not take in the people fleeing poverty and war in their lands and the concentration camps in Libya? What would have happened to the people in distress had Malta and Italy stood their ground?
“It is our duty to help avoid a humanitarian catastrophe and offer a safe harbour to these people in accordance with international law,” the Spanish government said.
Therefore, going by the Spanish government’s statement both Malta and Italy shunned international law and were prepared to let 629 human beings rot at sea. For Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat and Italian home affairs minister Matteo Salvini, political posturing comes before human life.
Muscat and Salvini were prepared to run the risk of causing a humanitarian catastrophe in order to appear tough with the EU and protect their sovereignty, national security and that kind of bullshit which pales in comparison to providing safety and security to fragile human beings stranded at sea.
This kind of brinksmanship was expected from the far-right demagogue that Salvini is and the EU, which urgently needs to rethink its migration policies, is braced for more histrionics from the new Italian government.
But for all his talk about making Malta a cosmopolitan country which offers life, jobs and hope for people from other countries, Muscat is no better than Salvini.
Muscat’s track record in migration is dreadful. He might not use the same language as Salvini and over the years he has softened his hawkish stance on migration.
But this is the same Muscat who since entering the political fray before Malta joined the EU in 2004 has continuously put ‘national interest’ above altruism, solidarity and international human rights law.
In 2011, when still in opposition, Muscat praised Salvini’s political prototype Roberto Maroni for refusing entry in Lampedusa to a boatload of asylum seekers saved by Malta.
A few days after being sworn in as Prime Minister in 2013, Muscat wanted to deport a group of 45 asylum seekers without giving them a chance to claim protection. Thankfully his machismo fell short of Malta’s international obligations and he later said he was only bluffing to make Europe “wake up and smell the coffee.”
A few weeks later, Muscat was once again at it, this time refusing to take in 102 people rescued at sea by a Turkish tanker ship, the M/V Salamis. Following a two-day standoff, Italy accepted the migrants on humanitarian grounds.
Now, after years of near-zero boat arrivals thanks to an agreement Muscat struck with previous centre-left Italian governments, Muscat is once again exposed for the xenophobe he is.
Before the new Italian government was formed, NGOs and experts warned that Malta is not prepared for any possible influx of asylum seekers resulting from the new Italian government’s repudiation of the tacit agreement between Muscat and Italy.
The Maltese government’s decision to downsize the country’s infrastructure, with reception centres in Hal Far and Safi being dismantled or neglected, is no coincidence. Its nothing but a cowardly act to justify Malta’s lack of capacity to take in people saved at sea.
Last week, Labour supporters gushed over Muscat’s achievements in the 10 years since becoming party leader. In 2008, Muscat famously gatecrashed the political scene with a message of love and inclusion. However, not for asylum seekers.
In the mass rally celebrating his 10 years at the helm of Labour, Muscat once again urged his loyal supporters to put xenophobia aside and welcome foreigners who want to work and live in Malta. But not asylum seekers. Otherwise Malta would not refuse entry to people stranded at sea. Otherwise Malta would not dismantle its reception facilities.
In years to come, Muscat might be remembered for the impressive economic stats and for introducing gay marriage but there is another side to his coin.
His policies have also heralded bigger social inequalities, environmental destruction and an unparalleled culture of impunity and corruption.
And, I would add, he is a bluffer and an irresponsible right-wing demagogue who would feel more at home with Salvini and Marine Le Pen than with Jeremy Corbyn or Pedro Sanchez.