“Il-mewg qieghed fil-bahar”. And this very instant, 162 people are at the mercy of these waves, deprived of their rights, on boats inadequate for the high seas. For two weeks, these people have been kept in these floating prisons.
Initially, housing these asylum seekers temporarily on chartered Captain Morgan cruises was a compromise; at least, they were not left to die on deflated dinghies short of fuel and water. We were hopeful that it was a step in the right direction. Two weeks have elapsed, and hopes that our Government would go on to do the right thing are all but gone.
Fear is the worst thing Abela told us on Sunday. But through his actions, he is consolidating the image that these people are to be kept away from our shores. And in doing so, it is the same fear he has condemned which he himself inciting. This will only add fuel to the scorching flames of racism, xenophobia and populist politics.
These people are being kept in conditions which are far from humane, far from respectable; human rights and a decent life, ideas these people risked everything for, are being snatched from them by our very authorities, and trampled on. How frustrating lockdown was, how weary we were of being shut in our homes? So was Robert Abela, reminding us that he too wanted a summer. But these people, human beings who without knowledge of whether they have a right to asylum we have detained, it is not a summer break they are dreaming of. It is dignity and humane treatment.
We have heard reports of hunger strikes and attempted suicides upon these cruises. Such is the degree of desperation that the Maltese State has driven these people to. Deprived of everything but their own bodies, it remains the only avenue for them to make their desperate pleas. And our government bears the responsibility for this.
Can the Maltese nation accept that our Government is effectively using these people as hostages to push its position? Can we accept that while our Cabinet is making arrangements to reopen airports for tourists in search of some Maltese sun, we bar our ports for those deprived of their most basic human rights? Can we expect that tourists will enjoy our seas, after so many have perished under its waves? Can we picture sun-seeking visitors crowding onto what were our Government’s chartered hell-holes?
The costs we face, on this solid ground we call home, are at most inconvenient news items and familiar shame on an international level. The high price our Government extorts from the 160 people at sea are human rights and dignity.
Yesterday, dozens of NGOs made a statement to express their disgust. The EU Foreign Affairs chief expressed his disappointment with Evarist Barolo’s brazen approach. One MEP attacked a lawyer for representing relatives of migrants who were left to die by the Maltese state, the rest have remained silent on the matter. Our MPs too do not appear to be piling on the pressure.
For two weeks these people have been detained at sea. Our government has betrayed its duty to uphold human rights, and worse, it has betrayed its humanity.
Let this piece be a loud call to whoever holds any position of power, influence or authority. People are being illegally detained on Maltese seas, on Maltese boats. Do everything you can to set this right, and for humanity’s sake, do it now. This situation can be accepted no longer.
Waves truly are in the sea, and people mustn’t be made political breakwaters.
Xandru Cassar is an activist.
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