The fact that we can’t have a referendum to back out of our international legal obligation to rescue people at risk of drowning in our waters is not the most important answer to give those campaigning for one. Racists, for so they are, will project that as yet another piece of the great conspiracy they believe is being perpetrated against them to take away from them their freedom and their country.

The real issue here is that a tenth of the population has signed up to the vile ambition of declaring our country free of compassion, mercy and humanity. They deny this.

They ground their arguments on pretexts like “living space”, “overwhelming pressures”, “absence of European solidarity”, “cultural integrity”, “identity” and other similar justifications that at face value seem appealing.

But underneath the thin skin of reasonableness is a frantic fear of the foreigner, an uncompromising prejudice against Africans and a despicable egoism that fuels anger for what they fear they might lose rather than what has been taken away from them.

Without much hope of turning any one of them to the light of human kindness, here’s a response to some of the racists’ most frequently resorted to excuses.

“Malta is too densely populated already.” Rubbish. Population density statistics are a ratio of population numbers divided by surface area. But that’s just an average. The population density of Australia is three per square kilometre.

That doesn’t mean that in a three-kilometre square around Sydney Harbour there are as many people as in a square of the same size on Uluru. Malta is a city on the sea. Properly its density should be compared with cities (Leicester, Leipzig, Lyon or Las Palmas) not with countries.

We are not “too overcrowded already” for the arrivals of a few hundreds of rescued migrants a year. No one is teetering on the edge of a cliff about to be pushed over by swelling, teeming crowds.

They used to say Malta was an unsinkable aircraft carrier. Now consider it is a lifeboat with plenty of space while people drown around us. Have a heart, fish them out. We can all make it.

“We need space to live.” Lebensraum. The argument here is that migrants are taking over properties in concentrated areas such as Ħamrun, Marsa and Birżebbuġa. Their concentrated numbers – and their dark skin – make the place look like somewhere which is not Malta. Without the benefit of any statistics or scientific basis, racists say these ghettos are unsafe for white people, infested with crime and a ruin for neighbourly property prices.

That’s because racism determines our policymaking. We expect European ‘burden-sharing’ so that migrants can be spread evenly from Sweden to Portugal, but we have no policies to make sure migrants moving into Malta find homes from Għarb to Marsaxlokk.

But the real issue here is that we think of this as a ‘burden’. Migrants are moving into neighbourhoods depressed and forgotten for having been empty for decades. People imagine they go there to look suspicious and do brutish, African things. But migrants move into towns and villages to live. They look for neighbours that share their religions, their customs and their grocery needs. They develop communities. Racists think this is a bad thing that needs to be stopped. That’s what makes them racist.

“Migrants will destroy our way of life and replace it with theirs.” Racists think there was a single moment when our culture underwent its sole moment of metamorphosis. It was 60AD and a prisoner called Paul of Tarsus brushed off a snake bite without getting a rash. At that moment, we emerged from our pagan chrysalis and abruptly the Maltese consumed pea pastizzi washed down with black coffee, watched fireworks with an oompah band and harvested palm trees for the kannizzati before the lampuki season.

Invented traditions with a temporal degree that is as fraudulent and historically baseless as the myths about black people’s tendency to violence and filth- Manuel Delia

People who judge other cultures through the stereotypes in their minds, stereotype their own culture as well. ‘Our ways’ become immutable. They become invented traditions with a temporal pedigree that is as fraudulent and historically baseless as the myths about black people’s tendency to violence and filth.

‘Our ways’ are this year’s fashion moulded out of centuries of migrations. Being Maltese is the ever-changing outcome of the incident of living in this country. We eat rabbits that we breed after the indigenous population was hunted to extinction. And we have them with gravy and chips because that’s so British.

“There’s no European solidarity.” Rubbish. Solidarity is about sharing costs, providing support, being there for each other. It is not about dumping our responsibilities on others.

In our waters it is our job to save lives, at least within the limits of our resources and we are far from ‘overwhelmed’ by the demands of the reality in which we live.

Scaremongering about an impending invasion is unjustified paranoia. And anyway, it’s about lives not about numbers.

Racists want us to stop saving people’s lives because there are so many to save. Shall we then stop caring for people with cancer because there are so many? Shall we stop helping the poor because there are so many?

Racists want us to stop saving people’s lives because there are others in Africa that will need to be rescued. There will always be sick people and there will always be poor people. Shall we stop caring?

I’ve been called “racist against the Maltese” for taking sides against the racists among us. I identify as Maltese but my identification does not stop there. I identify as human and that sense of belonging to a species is threatened by the idea of abandoning brethren that need rescuing to a watery grave. Is that so strange?

Kindness is inherent to humanity. Let them come ashore. Let them work and pray and eat and make merry. Let them live among us.

Let them become us. Let Malta be a home where not everyone eats pastizzi, but more of us are kind.

We cannot have a referendum on kindness. No number of signatures can force us to deny who we are: not merely inhabitants of a vaguely crowded city on the water, but humans all, for whom the life of others comes first.

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