Malta Today Thursday, August 18, 2011
The violence characterising the Safi incidents should not be supported. Yet, this does not mean that it should simply be brushed away without analysing the bigger picture. The government will not improve the situation if it simply focuses on punishment without analysing the causes of the incidents.
Malta should give due importance to the humanitarian realities of immigrants, whilst also having a clear integration policy that matches immigrants’ rights with responsibilities, and that grants the right of asylum to those who genuinely need it. A sustainable integration policy needs to be developed in a way which is sensitive to the individual and particular realities of immigrants.
Length and conditions of detention, which are currently too long, inhumane and unsustainable should be reviewed. A short period of detention is required to ascertain identity, age and for security reasons. But long terms of detention tend to be counter productive and are useless as these foster bitterness among immigrants and soldiers.
In any case, despite the rhetoric of the anti-immigration populists, many migrants will still end up living in Maltese society after the detention period is over. Six months’ detention for people who are escaping from war, hardship and suffering is more than enough. If there are people who still need to be monitored after that period, there are other alternatives such as obliging migrants to sign at Police stations and attend obligatory medical check ups.
Other issues should also be dealt with as soon as possible. These include the learning of languages used in Malta and having better dialogue amongst cultures. The right to work is imperative too, for the benefit both of immigrants and Maltese society. It is better to have regularised employment than allowing the underground economy to flourish, to the detriment of both exploited migrant workers and the labour force in general, due to a race to the bottom as regards wages and work conditions.
NGOs, experts and the media should have full access to detention centres. Continuous discussion on detention policy and other immigrant issues is always beneficial. There are many things that need to be reviewed, and consulting the various stakeholders can help improve the situation.
Migrants escaping war should not be sent back to such zones. In the case of those deserving protection, sending them back is not only inhumane but also illegal. Any politician or political party which promises this must either not know the facts or is deliberately lying. In the case of those not deserving protection, many times they are sent back, but it usually takes time for various reasons.
Yet, various refused migrants cannot be sent back to their countries of origin, for a variety of reasons ranging from lack of agreements with the countries involved and lack of certainty on where they come from. These end up living in a legal limbo. Some simply “disappear” but others stay. There is no easy solution to this but periodic amnesties which bring these people within the law could be preferable to having the problem worsen.
Alternattiva Demokratika – The Green Party believes in a European policy of responsibility sharing within pluralistic societies based on respect, rights and responsibilities. In this respect, the European Greens have called for responsibility sharing across the EU, relevant changes in the Dublin Treaty, and for more attention to be given to the situations of small island states. The anti-immigration populists, characterised by egoistic nationalism, oppose the very concept of responsibility sharing.
Hence, whilst others are busy involving themselves in cheap populism and empty rhetoric, AD, through the European Greens, is proposing viable, sustainable, and above all, humane policies to the immigration issue.
Michael Briguglio is a sociologist and the chairperson of Alternattiva Demokratika – the Green Party