Religiopolitical influence in the ethical dilemma of Malta and the plight of migrants

Sarah Cassar Dymond

I have been considering for a while now what citizens of a particular country feel like when their beloved country is flooded by migrants who mostly come in through illegal means- I mean without the necessary documents? Of interest to me is the beautiful Island state- Malta.

With a population of about 515,000 according to Wikipedia, Malta is indeed a popular destination for tourists. It is also one of the European countries that is attractive and never bereaved of an inflow of migrants flocking in their numbers especially by the way of the sea. The sailing of the ship on the gentle but dangerous waters of the sea makes the slow arrival of these guests to be greeted with several forms of drama as some looked at their guests with disgust while others are willing to give them a sympathetic shoulder. This conflict sometimes left the guests floating to and fro to the swinging of the sea and the horror of the storm.

Although migration has been in existence in different forms, it becomes intense when there are upheavals and deprivations in a particular nation. The inhabitants of the troubled nation seek for a place of refuge that offers a better life. The failure of government in managing the unfortunate occurrences invariably transfers the burden of taking care of its now fleeing citizens to the government and people of another country who have their own peculiar problems to deal with.

The economic woes and breakdown of law and order in Libya and other states of Africa and the Middle East have forced the large movements of persons seeking refuge or asylum whether political or economic to more lucrative nations of Europe. Malta is a major receiving country of maritime migrants especially from Libya.

My interest in writing this was informed by the BBC news I saw the other day, “Coronavirus: Malta says 65 rescued migrants test positive.” That is more than two thirds of a group of 94 migrants rescued in the Mediterranean by the Maltese coastguard have tested positive for coronavirus. Oh wow! This is a country that was proud of fighting the Covid-19 to a single digit. But boom out of the blues that have returned to the world map of the pandemic.
So I thought to myself, what if these guys were not rescued because they knew the dangerous and illegal path they took? In fact it was reported that they were at sea for 30 hours and made a distress call when their vessel was at the verge of sinking before being picked up by the Maltese coastguard.

It will be unfair if one does not consider the distress the beautiful island nation is facing caused by the influx  of these migrants not to talk of the risk and difficulty their citizens are exposed to due to the resources that will be spent on migrants for as long as, I don’t know when. Protocols of human rights and rights of refuges/asylum seekers are rightly made. However the impact of hosting and guarantying their rights should also be considered so that in a bid of securing ones right, the right of others should not be violated.

On the other hand, I also consider, if I was in that batch of migrants, maybe escaping for a chance to live, how would I have wanted the host nation to treat me? It is easier to judge from ones position but when the table is turned, it becomes difficult- how difficult it is but wise to play both sides.

Be that as it may, this situation is already staring nations and the international community. National blocs are formed and agreements are made but quickly broken or compromised. The EU has placed human rights as a major policy before politics, very commendable by the way. Yet politics finds its way into the purest of decision when a choice is to be made from varying options. It would be of the best interest if all nation is helped to be able to care of the welfare of its citizens by this migration could be brought to minimal.

The big question remains, how can this ethical dilemma of Malta in dealing with the plight of migrants be addressed?

Searching the pool of my reasoning, my political mind charged with patriotism seeks to put my nation first as a path to solving this dilemma. In this way the best path would have been to simply ignore the distress call and refuse to welcome such migrants to the shores of Malta especially when other nations are lagging in agreement to provide help. I have my reason, when you allow one batch, be sure that several others are on their trail. This has become the experience of Malta for some decades now. In 2019 the UN Refugee Agency placed the number of sea arrivals to Malta at 3,406 and “By the end of April 2020, a total of 1,201 people were rescued at sea and disembarked in Malta.”

Although this decision may act as a deterrent for similar voyages, the unfortunate consequence of refusing their docking or stopping a rescue mission is that the migrants’ ship may sink and they will perish in the sea or be rescued by some other bigger nation like Italy. Oh of course, Italy appeared to be fed up with the migrant problems. They may also be helped back to where they came and face the ugly situation they are running from while aid may be sent to them to better their situation there.

My humanity mind informed by my Christian faith poked at my political sagacity informing it that the previous decision sounds cruel especially as human lives are involved. Luckily for my religious mind, there are quite a number of conscientious thinkers in Malta who are sympathetic to the course of migrants as they are fellow humans. The religious minds beckon and pressure the patriotic squads to consider lives. Incidentally Malta has Catholicism as the state religion and Catholics are pro-life.

Here the dilemma is well pronounced. If the migrants are given free reign of entrance the Island may not be able to support a vast number of people leading to a breakdown of law and order. Refusing entrance to the migrants is inhuman, not considering others because of our privileged position.

So what do you suppose the people and government of Malta should do in the face of this recurring ethical dilemma?  I will suggest you do your best for the greater good of Malta and the migrants. Take a robust look at what Malta can condole, make it public and invite other nations to do same; make the necessary provision and plan to welcome the migrants with good intentions and send back those whose countries can accommodate them after they have been stabilised from the trauma of the sea. Also do what you would be proud of when it is replayed in history. Place yourself as the host country you are and make decision. Then flip the other side of the coin and make a decision as the migrant. How would you want to be treated?

The way migrants are being treated is becoming harsher. What do you expect when your streets are getting flooded by a varying people who hold no common value, culture or allegiance to the nation? At some time ago refugees staged a protest and burned some properties belonging to Maltese. Not having the required skills to be gainfully employed, some become nuisance to the host nation. Unfortunately those who came into Malta through a difficult legal process are looked upon with similar displeasure. The patience of Maltese is waning. Opinions against the influx of migrants are building up by the day.

What do you suppose the government of Malta should do in the face of this recurring ethical dilemma of Malta and the Plight of Migrants?

Samsun Attu is reading Master of Science in Public Policy and Strategic Management at the  University of Malta.