“Repatriation is not a solution”; “We need to learn how to live together”

Miguela Xuereb

Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

Repatriation is not a solution, Neville Gafà argued while TV presenter Peppi Azzopardi underlined the need that people have to learn how to live together with asylum seekers rescued at sea.

Watch the programme here:
Watch: Is Malta full up?

Gafà, who is a close confidante of disgraced former OPM Chief of Staff Keith Schembri and himself a former OPM employee, along with Azzopardi were invited on Newsbook Q&A hosted by Fr Joe Borg to discuss the xenophobic slogan that Malta is full up and which has been endorsed by Prime Minister Robert Abela. Similarly, former PN leader Adrian Delia used to make use of the said slogan.

During the programme, Azzopardi argued that had the country not been affected by the coronavirus pandemic, Malta would have needed more than 10,000 foreign employees. This was in reference to a figure quoted by then employment agency head Clyde Caruana who is now the prime minister’s head of secretariat.

Gafà noted that unlike migrant workers coming from countries such as Serbia, Philippines, Albania, among other countries, those rescued at sea are not using legal channels to arrive in Malta. He claimed that asylum seekers arriving from war torn Libya are throwing away their passports, adding that they are breaking the law.

The United Nation’s International Organisation for Migration defines irregular migration as the movement of persons that takes place outside the laws, regulations or international agreements governing the entry into or exit from the state of origin, transit or destination. The term is generally used to identify persons moving outside regular migration channels.

States have an obligation to protect the rights of individuals moving outside migrant channels. The IOM also states that there are categories of migrants who may not have any other choice but to use irregular migration channels can also include refugees, victims of trafficking, or unaccompanied migrant children.

The fact that they use irregular migration pathways does not imply that states are not, in some circumstances, obliged to provide them with some forms of protection under international law, including access to international protection for asylum seekers fleeing persecution, conflicts or generalized violence.

“Malta is full up”

Fr Joe Borg who hosted the programme noted that Prime Minister Abela has reclaimed a slogan which is commonly used by far-right extremists. Gafà defended the use of the slogan arguing that the government was dealing with the issue from a national security perspective.

He stressed that the global pandemic increased the risk of infectious diseases, noting that asylum seekers rescued at sea could be infected with coronavirus and pose a threat to other asylum seekers in the detention centre.

Azzopardi on the other hand noted that newly elected Partit Nazzjonalista leader Bernard Grech disagreed with the statement and called for a national conference to address the issue properly. He maintained that the discourse used when people speak about asylum seekers shows that they are considered of a “lower class”.

Working on a policy which would allow people to adopt migrants

Azzopardi revealed that he is currently working on a policy with the Home Affairs Ministry which would allow members of the public to adopt or host asylum seekers for a definite period of time.

Peppi Azzopardi had written to Prime Minister Robert Abela urging him to rescue the asylum seekers who were left stranded out at sea and notify him that there were families willing to welcome them.

Centres are full”

Gafà argued that the detention centres and the open centres are currently full and cannot host more people. He maintained that there was no space to take in more individuals.

He also argued that repatriation is not a solution to the problem, blaming the European Union for not doing enough as it did not assist on repatriation.

“I’m not taking any lessons from other European Member States when these are financing ‘criminal organisations’,” Gafà claimed as he mentioned France specifically.

In his closing comments Gafà said: “Malta cannot take in anymore asylum seekers. Have you ever gone to another country without a passport? Our centres cannot take anymore people.”

To which Peppi Azzopardi replied that people need to learn to live together and integrate with one another as well as help asylum seekers by teaching them new skills.