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Generosity à la carte

Migrants

Much has been said about the annual charity telethon ‘L-Istrina’ and the vainglorious mood that gripped the country after yet another record amount of donations collected. 

“There’s no nation quite like ours. This is a unique country,” the outgoing President of the Republic Marie Louise Coleiro Preca said, adding that respect and love should continue to reign throughout for the common good of the country.

Yet as I am writing this, 49 human beings, including women and children, have been out at sea for days because Malta continues to refuse to open its ports.

In this case, our generosity and kindheartedness does not go beyond allowing two rescue boats carrying the asylum seekers to enter Maltese territorial waters. Allowing them to disembark would have been stretching our generosity too far, it seems.

A few days ago Malta rescued 249 migrants in less than 24 hours. But it is adamant in its refusal to take in another 49, some of which have now been stranded at sea for almost two weeks. Why?

The government will claim that the ones it opens its doors to are rescued by the Armed Forces of Malta in Maltese territorial waters. The other 49 were rescued by NGO rescue vessels in waters outside of Malta’s search and rescue area. 

That Malta, Italy and the rest of the EU does not want NGO saving people at sea is abundantly clear. It is also clear that Malta will only take in asylum seekers if other EU countries commit themselves to redistributing those people saved.

Prolonging the journey of people, at great risk to their health and safety, cannot take precedence over the EU’s internal political bickering, the war on NGO rescue vessels or the convenient invocation of international maritime laws.  

The well being of 49 human beings should come before political jockeying, especially for a country which boasts of being ‘unique’ in its generosity.

Coleiro Preca told Malta Today: “I am not happy at all that we are leaving humans like us, like me and you, like the rest of the people that live in this country, out at sea, without an idea of what will happen to them.”

She added that Europe needs to pull up its socks and understand that human rights are not “a pick and choose issue.”

“I think that all of Europe needs to take a step back and consider what is happening, and when I say all of Europe that includes Malta.

I don’t know which Europe the President was referring to. The Europe of Matteo Salvini and Viktor Orban will neither take a step back nor understand that human rights are not exclusive to Europeans. 

The Europe of Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel might have a more humane face but it is equally motivated by short-term political and electoral exigencies.  

And Europe as a whole cannot come to an agreement on how to deal with the situation. 

All it takes to end the misery of 49 people is for one Prime Minister, in one EU member state, to take a simple decision that puts human life before political opportunity. Only then can a country, or a continent, truly claim to be generous and humane. 

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