The saddest thing about the recent immigration crisis in the Mediterranean involving two different rescue ships, the Aquiarius and the Lifeline, will always be the poor souls trying to reach Europe against all odds. Many of them trying to escape from war and confirmed atrocities. To mould a new future for themselves and their families, something literally millions of European immigrants did before and after World War II.

Human lives remain the priority for all those who genuinely feel Europe has to welcome the bona fide immigrants it after all needs to sustain her economies, but not at the price of the spectre of disunity that has surfaced with the advent of populist parties within various coalition governments. A pan-European strategy has to be put into place before the endless bouts of confusion, counter accusations and the shameless extent of misinformation could become things of an unsavoury past.

A case in point is the spate between Italy and Malta, the two member states nearest to the North African coast that, for many years, have streamlined an incredibly effective partnership aimed at tackling the problems that their geographic position has imposed on them. Unfortunately, the unfair attitude of a good number of European Union member states with regard to their committed responsibilities, has resulted in leaving the southern EU countries, among them also Greece and Spain, adrift, if you could excuse the pun, against the onslaught from mass immigration.

In turn, this situation has also resulted in the new Italian government, now run by populist figures who seem to lack even the most basic geographical details , as well as of the on-going rescue operations regularly undertaken in the Central Mediterranean region, suddenly expressing its exasperation by making comments and taking uncalled for stances that, alas, can only foment further discord.

The Maltese reaction, in particular that of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, to this disagreeable situation has been calm, crystal-clear, solidly based on facts and, as such, in complete and utter contrast to the sickening display of mere political ebullience by the more vociferous representatives of the new Italian administration. The reason why is obvious: Malta has always gone by the international book of rules, remains aware of her responsibilities, continues to be seriously committed to be a part of the humane mission that mass immigration demands, and is seriously conscious of the enormity of this unique European dilemma.

Needless to say, all this has to be seen from the perspective of a small island state that has limited resources, obvious territorial restraints and a service-oriented economy that depends on its highly successful tourism industry with its own inherent needs such as sustainable accommodation and infrastructure in what is a minuscule environment – without forgetting that Malta has the highest, per capita, intake of immigrants, second only to Sweden.

It is why Malta won’t be bullied into taking more than her agreed fair share of the burden. The incompetence and arrogance of some within Italy’s new government has been exposed to the full and while hopes linger still, the Maltese authorities have, in the meantime, persisted in making sure that all medical and food and water supplies to any stricken vessel within reach are delivered. Human lives are a lot more precious than the empty vitriolic banter that Signori Salvini and Di Maio have delivered so far, the latter even incomprehensively, albeit banally, bringing the European energy grid and the interconnector link from Ragusa to Malta into the issue.

Having said so, the kindness and tolerance of the Maltese is known, but we should not allow these remarkable characteristics of this small nation to accept just about anyone or anything. I believe that differentiation must be made between immigrants fleeing war, and persecution and those a seeking a better future than they would have at home – those usually called economic migrants. The former must be shown all our compassion, understanding and acceptance; the latter must be considered as persons trying to enter a country illegally, and must be treated as such.

The silver lining that has appeared in all of this is the unity of opinion among all sensible Maltese on the issue – except for those who’s interest to attack anything this Government does supersedes national interest. The majority of Maltese are proud of their hard-won independence and sovereignty and no amount of bullying attempts by some within the new Italian government and a biased section of the Italian media could threaten that.

We may argue and differ on many local and ideological issues, as we after all are historically wont to do, but when it comes to national pride and our sense of international solidarity, no single political demagogue’s rethoric can prevail and no populist bully can take that away from us.

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The Malta Independent 28.06.18

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