NGOs are calling on Labour to present their proposals on migration rather than “fuelling irrational fears” with their press statement last week issued by immigration spokesman Michael Falzon.

This does not reflect the ideology of what is meant to be a left-wing party... grounded in social justice

Six migrants died last week as they were crossing the Mediterranean to reach Europe but Dr Falzon made no mention of them, focusing instead on the 158 who were rescued and brought to Malta.

Maria Pisani, from Integra Foundation, said his “populist” statement was solely intended to generate fear and perpetuate a lack of understanding, dehumanising migrants in the process.

“Dr Falzon’s choice of this discourse is very worrying,” she said, pointing out that it was “very problematic” to refer to asylum seekers as illegal immigrants.

“I’d like to know where the Labour Party stands on the issues. How would they deal with a sustained flow of asylum seekers?”

She said Labour was not making any proposals but the discourse chosen pointed to a worrying direction that did not feature “integration” in any way.

Describing the government as “right-wing” on immigration issues, Ms Pisani said Labour seemed to be going in a direction that was “even more right-wing”.

“This does not reflect the ideology of what is meant to be a left-wing party... a progressive party grounded in social justice,” she said, adding that Labour’s emphasis should be on “integration, rights, obligations and social justice” not burdens.

“If they want to project themselves as the party of social justice, this is where they are really failing. If they consider themselves to be progressive, this is disgraceful.”

Neil Falzon, a spokesman of Aditus, said he rejected Dr Falzon’s statement in the same way he rejected all other statements that defined migrants exclusively in terms of “burdens”.

Considering people had just died, describing migrants as a burden was “pretty much in bad taste”.

“At the very least he should have expressed regret at their deaths,” said Neil Falzon.

“It is fine to talk about challenges but when you only talk about the challenges, not about the other aspects, it is very damaging.” He added that NGOs were particularly concerned that the political discourse in the run-up to the elections would be characterised by this sort of sentiment.

“We would not like to see political parties competing on who can use the most populist language or the strictest approaches.

“If anything, they should compete on which party is capable of having the most comprehensive national discussion on migration issues.”

The emphasis, he said, should be on an “inclusive” discussion.

Meanwhile, a group of 77 migrants were being brought to Malta aboard a patrol boat last night after the AFM established their rubber dinghy was not in a state to take them any further.

Statement in a nutshell

Entitled ‘The problem of illegal immigration is still with us’, Michael Falzon’s statement referred to the arrival of “another 160 illegal immigrants”.

He said this confirmed that illegal immigration was still a “worrying reality” for the country, and while there were legal and international obligations to follow, huge challenges and burdens were being placed on Malta.

Dr Falzon pointed out that Malta was among the countries with the highest number of migrants who were given some sort of protection status even though its people were the most concerned across the EU.

The government, he said, must work harder in European and international fora but had instead been left with no minister responsible for immigration since Carm Mifsud Bonnici was never replaced.

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