Human rights advocacy group aditus foundation was “taken aback” by the major political parties’ calls for the removal of non-Maltese individuals found guilty of committing an offence in the country.
While the prime minister pledged a zero-tolerance approach to people whose behaviour, according to him, would turn Maltese communities into ‘jungles’, the opposition called for outright deportations of foreigners breaching local laws before making a U-turn on the issue.
The reactions from PL and PN came in the wake of a spate of violent brawls in localities like Ħamrun and St Julian’s. The Shift’s research has shown that at least 73 violent incidents were noted by the police force in their press releases since 2020.
While agreeing that there is no place for violence in society, the assistant director of aditus foundation Carla Camilleri told The Shift that “equality before the law is a fundamental principle on which any functioning democracy is based”.
“The touting of the removal of foreign individuals found guilty of an offence is simply playing into the xenophobic discourse in order to gain populist approval. Laws, judicial procedures and sentencing should be applied equally to all individuals irrespective of gender, nationality, sexual orientation, political opinion and social background,” Camilleri said.
“It would indeed be tyrannical if individuals were treated differently in judicial proceedings depending on some personal characteristic found to be distasteful by a person in power,” she added.
Citing Article 1 of the Constitution of Malta, aditus foundation reiterated that Malta’s status as a democracy is built on the respect for the fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual, irrespective of nationality and ethnic origin.
“There are procedures in place for the removal of other foreign nationals which come with a number of procedural guarantees that need to be adhered to without the interference of government or members of parliament,” the organisation’s assistant director said.
Asked to comment on the issues that can lead to street brawls and similar confrontations, sociologist Angele Deguara told The Shift that such violence “happens in every society, especially in contexts where people from different cultures, races, religions meet”, adding that prejudiced attitudes can be made worse in settings where people are intoxicated.
“We live in a small, overcrowded country with high temperatures and hot temperaments. We also have a history of foreign occupation where we looked at our rulers with mixed feelings, perhaps with a sense of inferiority but also with a certain disdain because they were our oppressors,” Deguara said.
“In our recent history, the Maltese are once again looking at foreigners as invaders, but in this context, they are not seen as oppressors but as invading our spaces, neighbourhoods, places of work and entertainment. We are unwillingly hosting them, and their presence and behaviour may easily trigger conflict,” she added.
The sociologist also argued that the sentiment has spread towards foreigners in general – while xenophobia is no longer solely limited to migrants who come to Malta by crossing the Mediterranean, she believes it is less severe with groups such as the British.
Deguara further referred to the concentration of migrants and foreigners in certain towns as an additional layer of pressure which can lead to violence. The Shift’s research into violent brawls over the last three years has shown that areas like St Julian’s and St Paul’s Bay have become hot spots for violent exchanges, alongside more well-known areas like Marsa and Ħamrun.
“This may create discomfort, suspicion, insecurity and a general sense of malaise which can easily be transformed into aggression. The media and politicians do not help how foreigners, especially non-white migrants, are represented. They are easily scapegoated, especially if one does not look at the bigger picture or if the public is not presented with the facts,” the sociologist said.
Camilleri from aditus foundation further stressed that the country needs to understand whether “risk factors for violence, anger and stress include increasing levels of unemployment, precarious work and poverty, low levels of economic opportunity and poor housing conditions”.