If you live on The Rock you must have heard of the illegal immigrants saga that is going on at the moment. Malta is a small island in the middle of the Mediterranean ocean, mid-way between Africa and mainstream Europe. When we were younger we were taught at school how our strategic position made us the envy of Europe and Africa, and foreign countries wanted to conquer us in order to benefit from that. Today our strategic position can be viewed differently. We are a small country of roughly 415,000 and last year alone we had just over 2,000 people arriving in Malta as illegal immigrants. Each year the figure of people arriving in Malta on boats exceeds the thousand mark, and the problem is getting more and more serious by the day.
If you live in Malta you do realize that the problem is getting graver by the minute. Whenever a boat is marked as approaching our shores, a national furore arises. Pro- and anti-immigration arguments start popping up on social media sites, and everyone is suddenly an expert on illegal immigrants, asylum seekers and refugees. These past days my Facebook wall was full of such statuses (statii?) Everyone was throwing in their two-cents worth of thoughts on the whole issue. Do we welcome them in Malta and accept them here? Do we send them back to the country they came from? Do we send them back to a different and better country? What makes us seem the bigger and better country? Can we take on more than we can handle?
Arguing these points is very easy and comfortable from the comfort of your home. Living the reality is a totally different thing.
I have no set line of reasoning. I look at the hundreds who arrive illegally in Malta, sometimes daily, and I adopt a realistic approach. Can we as a small country cater for the care and protection of these people? For be we as Catholic as we say we are, the ugly truth is that such care is an extra burden for a country like Malta. The cost of it all angers some Maltese people, especially considering the fact that as one of the smallest countries within the European Union, we are forced to accept a high number of immigrants in our country. Hosting and keeping illegal immigrants costs the country a lot, and many take on the view that the government has enough on its plate with the Maltese situation alone, let alone that of other countries.
But what is the alternative – repatriation? Is that just on any level? Because one has to see the whole picture starting from the very beginning. Can anyone living in a civilized countries with respected rights and laws even begin to decipher what it means to live in a siatuation so desperate that the only solution to stay alive and offer yourself and your family a decent life would be spending all your money to pay for boat-trip to a foreign country you sadly have no guarantee of arriving at? Because let’s face it, many die on the way and the ones who make it are not in the best of health. We don’t know or understand such desperation. So would sending them back to the country they wanted to flee, really solve the problem?
We know no such horror. We are lucky to live where we do and how we do. I see photos of desperate pregnant mothers and young babies and my heart goes out to them because even though I understand the burden these will have on society, I can’t help but see the humane side to it all. These people have rights. Throwing them to and fro several countries does not ring right to me . Separating male immigrants from the women and children sounds inhumane and reminds me of days gone by when human rights were not on the fore-front of the agenda. In our pursuit to ‘save the country’ have we perhaps forgotten the humane side to it all?
Then again what is the solution anyone can offer these people? It’s not an easy task, and I don’t envy anyone having to take a final decision on this one. It’s a big, big problem, involving human life and rights and liberties. Thousands of people aboard unsafe boats cross the Mediterranean Sea every day, some dying along the way. It’s a gruesome sitaution and no easy solution seems available.
But try and forget about the costs and burdens, the rights and regulations, the laws and ethics of it all. For me all that is left and what matters the most is the look of utter desperation in the eyes of a young pregnant woman or a scared young boy who is all alone in this world. There is a haunting quality in their eyes, they are eyes that have seen too much and do not want to anymore. Our lives with our petty problems seem insignificant in the realm of it all.
They might be an added headache to the country they land in, but illegal immigrants are just people who were born into unfortunate circumstances. At the end of it all, it’s all about humanity and respect. Nothing else ought to really matter as much.
These are my own personal views. They don’t represent anyone else’s thoughts and words. I’d like to hear your thoughts on the matter.