Immigration has emerged as one of the defining issues of our times in Europe. Still, the European Union has failed to adopt a pragmatic migration policy agreed upon by all member states to alleviate the pressure on the main countries of arrival.
There is no shortage of political rhetoric on the need for so-called burden-sharing, an unfortunate term that strips migrants of their humanity. But the cumbersome unanimous-decision governance model of the EU makes it practically impossible for this fair concept to become policy anytime soon.
Malta is one of the member states at the EU’s frontier of migration and carries more than its fair share of the ‘burden’. The government has repeatedly made a case for more solidarity to be shown by other member states so that some of the migrants who cannot be repatriated can be transferred to other EU member states. The strategy so far has produced a limited degree of success.
But it has not done away with the challenge of integrating both legal and irregular migrants into the community. The need for a comprehensive migrants’ integration policy has never been more urgent.
It all starts with values and mentality. The core of any policy should be the fact that refugees and asylum seekers are, first of all, human beings and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. The fact that this needs to be spelled out speaks volumes about current attitudes.
These were on full display at the local migrant centres recently deemed by international bodies to have breached their residents’ right to dignified and respectful treatment.
Equally shocking was the horrendous incident in which Lamin Jaiteh was allegedly cast out on to a road by his employer after a serious accident on a building site. At least, the incident has raised public awareness of the need for a national effort to show respect to all, whether locals or migrants, of whatever legal status.
Another wake-up call came in the form of protests held by migrants and NGO lobby groups in Valletta in an appeal to the authorities and to Maltese society to treat them with more respect.
The protests are a signal to both government and society that they need to start looking at the migrants’ issue both more pragmatically and humanely. Speakers at the protests confirmed that the tightening of the Specific Residence Authority policy in recent months is rendering their chances of working legally nearly impossible.
This understandably affects their mental health and might have a permanent negative impact on their children. The country’s policies on migrant documentation, implemented by Identity Malta, must be underpinned by the principle that the lives of thousands of vulnerable migrants, especially children, matter.
Local employers have called for an amnesty to help get undocumented workers in line with employment regulations. That would go some way towards making their lives more liveable.
The only acceptable way to deal with the challenge of migration is to ensure that they eventually integrate into society, work and pay their taxes and enjoy the benefits of free health, education and social services.
While EU leaders’ solidarity on migration remains elusive, our political leaders must take responsibility for the migrants on our shores and refrain from adopting legalistic obstacles to integrate them into the community for fear of political retribution by some voters.
The EU is built on democracy, the rule of law and the respect of fundamental rights. But its failure to introduce fairer EU-wide policies does not absolve our country from the obligation to act humanely towards vulnerable migrants.
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