16 APRIL 2003

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Migration in the Mediterranean

Home Affairs Minister Tonio Borg last week addressed a conference on Migration in the Mediterranean - prospects for the future. Dr Borg speaks about the challenges in implementing migration management policy and a wide range of related issues

Only seven months ago, delegations of 37 countries from the 44 member States of the Council of Europe met in Helsinki. The general theme of that conference was "Migrants in our society: policy choices in the 21st century". Other non-member state, international bodies and organisations also participated. However, of special significance, representatives from four North African states, namely Algeria, Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia also participated for the first time.
For today’s conference, the assembly has been extended to include more African participation. This is a very positive development. Indeed, when Malta proposed to hold such a conference as part of the agenda for the current Maltese Presidency, it did so with the specific intention of utilising its geographical position for the deepening of dialogue and understanding. This "mare nostrum" has been, in the past, both a meeting point of different cultures as well as, unfortunately, a melting pot of contrasting ideas.
These opposing factors have, however, led to a strictly Mediterranean history and culture. Indeed, Malta, with a Semitic-based language yet strictly European cultural and religious identity, an island where numbers are spoken in the Arabic form yet written in the Romance style, where the old capital, as many other place names, retains its Arabic designation - Mdina - but boasts of some of the best preserved Norman buildings, is living evidence that cultures can co-exist.
Indeed, as, I am sure, you will hear during these two days’ proceedings, Malta, which, incidentally, lies in a latitude which is further south than the northern most tip of Africa, was not always on the, so to say, receiving end. Many Maltese migrated to neighbouring countries both to the North and to the South. There they sought a brighter future. Most integrated within those communities. Some returned to Malta, thereby further enriching the local scene since they had now experienced and absorbed fresh ideas.
Cross fertilisation is not always rosy. Indeed, it would be naïve to say so. In fact, one must acknowledge that the migration phenomenon of the past, especially the 50s and 60s experience indicates that that mass movement was successful because it was somehow managed. Malta is very aware of this. In fact the unmanaged migration, or rather, clandestine migration has raised serious concerns in Malta.
With a population density which is the second highest in world – 1,400 per square kilometres – a population of 380,000 living on a mere 316 square kilometres, and an infrastructure that is limited in scope owning to the very size of land available, Malta has had to cope with 1686 boat people. A worrying comparison is that this represents 34.6% of the birth rate for 2002.
I believe all are agreed that migration, taking that word in its widest sense, is a human feature. One cannot eradicate the trait, but one must face the challenge that current times present. The UN Resolution 54/212 of 22 December 1999, called for the drawing up of (quote) "a report that will, inter alia, summarise the lessons learned, as well best practices on migration management and policies". We are gathered here today, with a similar task. Participants are being asked to focus on migration within a specific region, namely the Mediterranean, with a view to evaluating (quote) "prospects for the future". The varied cultural, historical and social experience of the participants, based on past experiences, the lessons learned from recent and current circumstances, will help us, together, look forward for the implementation of a migration management strategy which is a key factor if we are to look into the future with renewed hope.
This gathering brings together the key stakeholders. Physically, we are gathered together. The meeting’s success depends on an open and frank dialogue, an exchange of ideas among equals, a common reflection on the growing concern of population mobility. The Council of Europe has always promoted the protection of long-term migrants, including family reunification and migrant workers. On the other hand, it recognises that a disjointed, piece-meal approach to the matter will have disastrous consequences on all concerned, be they sending, transit or receiving countries and indeed on the migrants themselves.
For this purpose Malta is willing to promote a dialogue between countries of origin and receiving countries, along with transit countries, with the aim of achieving a strategic implementation for the regulation of migratory flows. Malta already co-operates through Interpol Channels, particularly through the Project Bridge on illegal immigration. It has sought to address the matter on a diplomatic level either by seeking co-operation in repatriating clandestine migrants or by seeking to conclude readmission agreements.
Malta has achieved two notable international successes. Twice in its recent history, Malta has managed to coagulate universal support in favour of a common position which ultimately lead to an internationally recognised policy. I refer to the "common law of the sea" concept and the awareness that climate change effects us all. Both ideas are based on a very simple yet fundamental precept. This global village is the common heritage of us all, black or white, rich or poor, African or European, whatever the race, colour or creed. The back-bone of these two Maltese proposals is that, in certain areas, mankind achieves success or tastes defeat, not on the basis of some geographical or economic criteria but as a whole, as a human race.
Our world has changed. Data in any part of this global village is now easily available on the world-wide web which encapsulates us together in one grand fabric. Media coverage is such that events happening thousands of miles away obtrude in our living rooms in real time. This is not to mean that everyone has access to means which, for many others, are by today's standards, common day gadgets. But perhaps it is precisely because certain resources and opportunities are not available to one and all, the migratory flow is on the increase. A few minutes ago, I made reference to a kind of co-operation which aims at stemming the flow once the movement has started. International police interaction and co-operation on a multilateral level (readmission agreements) is an essential component of the strategy. Indeed, Malta believes that regional or international multilateral readmission arrangements may indeed be more effective than bilateral agreements.
However such international co-operation has to be buttressed by an aggressive and sustained plan for sustainable development which ensures that the migration phenomenon, which is, I believe, ingrained in human nature, becomes itself a sustainable occurrence. Man evolved from a nomadic stage to a more stable city life. This was a matter of choice. But we must acknowledge that a good number of those on the move today, are not acting out of choice, but rather, out of necessity. A necessity that is possibly being triggered by an uneven distribution of wealth. Here we again, the "common heritage" principle cited above, may come in handy. The readiness to address this matter is appreciable. International, inter-governmental and non-governmental organisations are witness to this desire to aim for a better world.
The two facets - "suppression" (policing) and "investment" (be it in the economy, health or education sectors) go together. Indeed, Malta plans to push these ideas further as it assumes the Presidency of the CIMO conference next July. This West-Med forum is an informal gathering involving Ministries of the Interior of 4 Countries from the Northern coast of the Mediterranean along with 4 others of the Southern littoral, Malta making up the 9th member. Migration is one of the main areas tackled by this grouping. During its Presidency, Malta intends to intensify the dialogue in this subject of mutual concern, a matter which, it must be acknowledged, is a somewhat sensitive issue, indeed, rather politically charged, but which, precisely because it is a delicate matter, must be approached without pre-conceived positions. An open dialogue without prejudices or hard-line positions.
Dear guests, when I had the honour to address the Helsinki conference last September, I solicited my European colleagues stating that (quote) "the Europe we dream of constructing should not be fortress-like but outward looking. Our continent offers itself as a beacon of hope to the weary, the vulnerable and the exploited; but we, as representatives of European Governments, can never ignore public opinion on the problems which migration, if uncontrolled may give rise to." The key word, I believe is "uncontrolled". The essential aspect is "management".
Elements of the challenges for a migration management policy have already been identified as can be established from a reading of a number of Council of Europe documents of the past few years. Most reports emphasise the importance of "Diversity and cohesion" and the importance of the integration of immigrants and national minorities. This country has managed to maintain its "cohesion" despite the "diversity" it experienced over the ages. A balanced approach is required.
Malta has a solid reputation when it comes to hospitality, and will continue to offer it, not only over the next few days but also in the future. Malta’s vocation is that of a European nation with excellent relations with the Arab states due to historical reasons. Thus it can make a significant contribution within the Mediterranean region where we are ready to do our part. If we are in agreement that the migration phenomenon, although a multi faceted issue, is a matter for common concern, than, we will already have achieved a lot. Once this appreciation is grasped, sincere dialogue naturally follows.

Copyright © Newsworks Ltd. Malta.
Editor: Saviour Balzan
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