Stranded at sea? Bah hum­bug!

The Malta Independent on Sunday - - THE FACT -

What a com­plete lack of Yule­tide spirit the gov­ern­ment has shown to­wards its fel­low man over the last week by flatly re­fus­ing to take in two sep­a­rate groups of mi­grants res­cued on the high seas. This comes in the same week dur­ing which the coun­try pub­lished its lat­est list of mil­lion­aires and bil­lion­aires who have pur­chased Mal­tese, and Euro­pean, cit­i­zen­ship for a con­sid­er­a­tion of cold hard cash.

But it takes a cold, hard heart to em­brace one group so will­ingly and to shun an­other so will­ingly depend­ing on their ma­te­rial worth is an ab­hor­rent con­cept not only at this time of the year but at any time of the year and there is some­thing wrong with a so­ci­ety that ac­cepts such ac­tions as nor­mal.

A Span­ish aid boat op­er­ated by the non­profit group Proac­tiva Open Arms car­ry­ing over 300 mi­grants res­cued at sea has now ar­rived in Spain, putting an end to a week-long jour­ney across the west­ern Mediter­ranean.

The boat, op­er­ated by the non-profit group Proac­tiva Open Arms, docked at the Span­ish port of Al­ge­ci­ras, and had to travel to Spain af­ter Malta re­fused it per­mis­sion to dock and Italy and other coun­tries also re­fused to help. Spain’s For­eign Min­istry said Malta de­nied the aid boat, with mi­grants of 19 dif­fer­ent na­tion­al­i­ties aboard, per­mis­sion to dock and the boat’s calls to Italy and France re­port­edly went unan­swered. The Mal­tese gov­ern­ment can hide be­hinds le­gal ar­gu­ments ad in­fini­tum but the fact of the mat­ter is that it is the hu­man­i­tar­ian spirit that counts here, not the tech­no­cratic drivel and the le­galese.

It is not just that there are a lot of peo­ple out there in this coun­try that would want to see such a hu­man­i­tar­ian spirit demon­strated in their name; many, we are sure, feel quite the op­po­site, but the gov­ern­ment could have very well seized this op­por­tu­nity as a chance to in­struct, to lead by ex­am­ple and to even use the Christ­mas spirit as an ex­cuse. That, many would say, would show weak­ness as Malta, Italy and other Mediter­ranean states con­tinue to arm wres­tle over re­spon­si­bil­i­ties for mi­grants res­cued at sea. We, how­ever, beg to dif­fer. Show­ing hu­man­i­tar­i­an­ism is a demon­stra­tion of strength that will also earn the coun­try ku­dos and a slightly bet­ter hand to play around the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble, if one were to wax cyn­i­cal about such matters.

The gov­ern­ment has been all but silent on the two re­quests, save for last Satur­day hav­ing stated that it had air­lifted a mother and new­born baby to safety for med­i­cal at­ten­tion.

And it also comes at Christ­mas­time. As pointed by the Bish­ops of Malta and Gozo yes­ter­day, the sit­u­a­tion over the last few days with the peo­ple left onboard the Open Arms and those still – at the time of go­ing to print – on board an­other res­cue ves­sel re­fused by Malta, the Sea Watch 3, present an in­vi­ta­tion to ex­press sol­i­dar­ity in a con­crete man­ner. They said it is a mat­ter of great con­cern that Malta and Europe at large are re­fus­ing to of­fer shel­ter and as­sis­tance.

The Sea Watch 3 and its 32 res­cued mi­grants is, in fact, still with­out a port and it would be a no­ble ges­ture in­deed if Malta were to of­fer them and the ship’s crew safe haven for the New Year rather than leav­ing them in po­lit­i­cal limbo on the high seas.

These most re­cent episodes, show­ing our re­fusal to ac­cept stranded mi­grants, is also some­what tone-deaf com­ing as it does in the same month in which Malta signed up for the United Na­tion’s Global Com­pact on Migration with no small amount of fan­fare.

That com­pact is not le­gally bind­ing and a core guid­ing prin­ci­ple of the fi­nal text ex­plic­itly af­firms the sov­er­eign right of states to de­ter­mine their na­tional migration pol­icy and their pre­rog­a­tive to gov­ern migration within their ju­ris­dic­tion in ac­cor­dance with in­ter­na­tional law.

But wouldn’t it be great if we were to show a lit­tle hu­man­i­tar­ian ini­tia­tive, to lead the way as it were, with­out hav­ing to twist the arms of fel­low EU lead­ers into lend­ing a help­ing hand, and just show some of those peo­ple stranded at sea a lit­tle Chris­tian com­pas­sion at this spe­cial time of the year?

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