By Prof Andrew Azzopardi
The recent reports on the media that yet another 19 minors face the possibility of ‘eviction’ from Malta is disquieting.
As Dean of the Faculty for Social Wellbeing, I do understand the intricate legalities that form the basis of immigration law which strikes to achieve a balance between national security and the fair and just treatment of all people from various nationalities entering and possibly working in Malta. Balancing such complex interests requires an in-depth legal understanding as well as a mind and a heart for public policy which has been a hallmark of the sterling work being carried out by civil servants in this field. However, the issue at hand is made more heart wrenching given that the persons involved are minors and have therefore an added vulnerability.
Interest of the child should be put first
Let it be known that from where I stand children that are made to endure such a trauma goes diametrically against meeting the children’s basic needs as delineated in the UNCRC, and the principle at the heart of all Maltese welfare that the interest of the child is put ahead of other considerations because of the value and importance that we give to families.
In summary, I would like to point out the following:
- The trauma that these children must be suffering because of these circumstances might well be irreversible, knowing well-enough that stability, structure and permanence are fundamental ingredients in the wellbeing of children.
- No known assessment has been carried out of the countries of return and the situation that the children will find themselves in had they to return to their towns and villages of origin. This could lead to children being sent to worse conditions with potentially abusive situations that would be artificially created by a very mechanic reading of the law.
- This situation verges on discrimination and unfairness because we know well-enough that a significant number of parents/guardians of (Maltese) children do not make the salary benchmark being imposed on these children and their families.
- It is not right that we seek migrant workers to occupy the lower paid positions to ensure our thriving economy but then deprive them the right to establish their lives and their families in Malta. Let’s face it, this economic miracle we are living would not be possible were it not for the hard and underappreciated work that third country nationals have carried out in the sectors of construction, hospitality, agriculture and health to name but a few. It is truly a cynical state that would use the hard work of these migrants without allowing them the basic right to a family as enshrined in Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
- We must heal from the malaise of measuring social yardsticks solely by economic measures. Social and familial wellbeing do not depend only on financial prowess.
- As the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child which Malta has ratified and which we hold to dearly should become part of domestic legislations, states very clearly, the voice of the children is imperative in this matter and short of that we are missing one of the most fundamental principles that is, listening to what the children have to say about this matter.
- I can identify over 20 Articles in the Convention on the Rights of the Child (unicef.org/) that indicate a breach of some sorts in this matter but one article that stands out is Article 9 which emphasises that families should remain together. Hence assuming parents are in Malta legally and/or as a result of a humanitarian decision should entail that children are never to be separated from their parents.
Find a permanent humane solution
I appeal to all concerned to find a permanent humane solution that balances out the various needs in a just and wise manner. We cannot and must not accept that because laws have been written in one way that they do not require a revisit. Our laws are required to reflect our principles and our values and when they do not we should change our laws not vice versa. We need to guarantee the necessary due diligence before families are accepted to reside but also to safeguard the rights of children once they are inhabiting this country.
We cannot remain unresponsive to such an unjust situation that these minors are facing. Children should be busy playing, studying, exploring the World, making new friends and not fearing the brunt of eviction.
(Prof Andrew Azzopardi is Dean of the Faculty for Social Wellbeing.)