During the second week of July, Maltese newspaper headlines seemed to revolve around issues of immigration and racism. Tensions are running high; the immediate response was emotive and highly personal.
On a human level, all individuals have an inherent right to life, dignity and respect. On a political level, the arrival of migrants is a policy concern which presents socio-economic challenges.
Migration vs. Immigration
The terms migration and immigration are used interchangeably. Immigration refers to the movement of an individual or a family from one country to another. Migration refers to the movement of a larger demographic across different countries. The latter term best describes the individuals who arrive on Maltese shores seeking asylum.
Their journey begins in sub-Saharan Africa – often from Somalia, Djibouti, and Eritrea. Once in a North African country, migrants seek employment to be able to pay for the final leg of the journey into Europe. The majority of vessels used are not safe and many experience difficulty at sea.
Approximately 120,000 people attempt to cross the Mediterranean annually. The number of those who died at sea is unknown. Mediterranean countries are receiving states for several migrants; its waters are the permanent resting place to a number of others.
Dehumanisation of Policy
Pope Francis chose Lampedusa as the destination of his first trip outside Rome. During a penitential liturgy, the Pope lamented the “globalisation of indifference” which comes about when one lives in soap bubbles of comfort and becomes indifferent to the suffering of others.
This phenomenon is particularly prevalent in issues of migration. The global trend seems to suggest a slow dehumanisation of policy-making; short-term problem solving seem to be preferable to long-term solution. This is a damning indictment on the value system we are currently cultivating.
Immigration poses several challenges. Analysts cite over-burdened welfare systems, cultural tensions, security concerns and logistical problems. On the Mediterranean front, the response to migration has ranged between two extremes. FRONTEX, the EU agency for border management, has been largely ineffective. Push-back policies pursued by the Berlusconi government raised significant concerns on human rights violations.
The journey across the Mediterranean is the last leg on the migratory route. Attempting to solve this issue without tackling the root-causes can never yield long-term results. The post-colonial period in the Horn of Africa failed to generate economic growth and political progress. A number of countries are torn by the aftermaths of civil war and internal conflict. Migration is likely to persist unless any significant development is generated in the countries of origin.
Racist sentiments seem to be a knee-jerk reaction. Such views are abhorrent, yet they present a real and pervasive problem fuelled by fear and the lack of cultural integration. These sentiments cannot be easily dismissed; they present another policy challenge which can, perhaps, be addressed through the educational system.