14 September 2005

The Web

The pot calling the kettle black

Politics is a very strange game indeed. Alfred Sant’s comment to sister newspaper MaltaToday that the national interest comes before human rights on the issue of illegal immigration is a serious distortion of democracy.
In his zeal to sound tough on illegal immigration as well as to satiate the racist appetite of a growing section of society that is ill-informed on the issues that surround the boat people phenomenon, Sant has simply rescinded from offering enlightened leadership.
Illegal immigration is a very delicate issue to deal with. There are genuine people who leave their country because life there is unbearable. There are United Nations conventions that protect people from persecution and forced repatriation and thankfully Malta as a fully functioning democracy is a party to such conventions.
Refugee status or humanitarian protection is granted to individuals who demand them according to established criteria. Malta cannot ignore these international obligations whatever our politicians say.
Human rights are entrenched in our constitution and every person, Maltese or foreigner, is entitled to have them protected by the State.
Alfred Sant’s tough stand contrasts with his supposedly progressive background. His words only help to foment more fear, which eventually leads to racism. Politicians have a duty to educate and lead.
The whole issue of illegal immigration has been blown out of proportion. It is talked of in terms of a security threat and worse still an affront to our identity and culture. There are currently around 2,500 illegal immigrants and refugees in Malta. This contrasts heavily with the more than 11,000 foreigners who live and work here regularly and the almost 1.5 million tourists who visit us every year. If our culture or identity is being eroded by ‘foreign invaders’ it certainly is not the fault of a couple of unfortunate boat people.
While acknowledging the difficulty a sudden influx of illegal immigrants can create, this leader prefers to refer to the issue as a financial and administrative problem.
Malta’s financial resources are stretched and this is where the European Union is failing us. This leader has absolutely no problem if the country’s political leaders decide to raise hell in Europe to put the issue on the agenda.
But what the political class has been saying so far shames our democratic credentials.
Sant’s declaration represents the cherry on the cake but he is not alone. In a strong dose of hypocrisy the Nationalist Party has tried to capitalise on the stupid comment by depicting the Labour leader as the devil incarnate.
What the PN seems to have forgotten is the deputy prime minister’s declaration in the London Financial Times that government was prepared to take unilateral decisions, even suspending its international obligations if need be. Borg’s comment was repeated by Parliamentary Secretary Tony Abela in PN daily in-Nazzjon.
This leader cannot either ignore the fact that it was a Nationalist government that repatriated hundreds of Eritrean asylum seekers when the situation in their country was anything but safe. Whatever happened to human rights then?
Unilateral action and suspending Malta’s international obligations are politically correct ways of saying that the human rights of illegal immigrants will be compromised.
On illegal immigration there is no difference between the position adopted by the PN and the shaky policy of the MLP.
Mandatory detention should be reduced to a maximum of six months giving the authorities enough time to issue an identification card for each illegal immigrant. Government’s efforts should be directed towards the creation of more open centres that are properly managed by the social policy ministry in conjunction with the immigrants themselves. On a different level, illegal immigrants in open centres must undergo an obligatory course in English and Maltese language conversation apart from a familiarisation course on Malta’s legal framework outlining this country’s belief in freedom of expression, freedom of worship and human rights. In this way immigrants will be helped to integrate better in society, diminishing the tensions that may arise because of ghettoisation.
On the diplomatic front government should work harder to reach a repatriation agreement with Libya for those individuals where refugee status cannot be granted because the case does not merit such a status.
While keeping their feet firmly on the ground, our politicians have to start thinking differently about the illegal immigration issue. Until now the tough talk has only produced more hate towards asylum seekers. It is time to change tack.

Why not be French?
Thierry Breton is an unknown figure in Malta but a respected politician in France. Hailing from the Gaullist conservative wing, he sounds more like a Socialist. But then all French politicians have the habit of being in synch with a social welfare conscience. Yet, what is atypical for the French is often confused as a bitter tasting recipe for state intervention. Indeed it may not always be the case.
Breton is the Minister for Economy in France. Appearing on TV station France 2, he expressed his concern that the oil companies were makings bags of profits leading to an excessive price hike in fuel – to the detriment of the consumer, business and the competitive nature of French companies.
He did not stop there. He added that if the oil companies did not mend their ways he would apply a ‘super tax’ on their profits.
The next day giants BP and Total reacted, putting down the price of fuel. The bluff worked.
Breton’s ways could be described interventionist, leftist, out of place or not in line. In truth it served to boost sentiment in the consumer and business sector that politicians are worth their salt.
Perhaps someone could emulate Monsieur Breton.

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