Last Sunday Prime Minister Robert Abela was upbeat and happy.

He had promised the Maltese that they would be able to enjoy the summer and is now thrilled that everyone is gloriously enjoying the holiday season as coronavirus has been brought under control.

He also seemed content that Libya had intercepted around 5,000 migrants on their way to Malta and Lampedusa. One problem less for Malta and Italy was the strong hint given by the prime minister.

It was a pity that the prime minister’s statement oozing positivity on coronavirus was followed by a surge in the number of people contracting the virus and the doubling of the so-called R-Factor in a few days.

This brought with it a tsunami of appeals by all sorts of professional and business-related organisations asking the prime minister to stop mass events.

There is no place for parties, festa marches and other such mass activities. Several band clubs and some organisers of parties have decided to postpone or cancel their activities. 

Meanwhile, the tourism minister played the part of the health minister saying we can keep on importing people from all over the COVID-riddled world to participate in a mega-party debauch.

We just needed to dust a little bit here and there not abolish the parties, said the minister, who still needs to explain how partygoers can keep social distancing particularly when many of them are drunk.

Then, on Thursday evening the government took some action but the professionals were not amused.

Not nearly even scratching the surface, said the Medical Association of Malta so the industrial action directives stand. 

A bulletproof vest comes in handy

The subject of this commentary, however, is the comment of the prime minister about people being forcibly sent back to Libya. The prime minister himself recently went to Libya. Seeing that the country, unlike Malta, is not a paradise of peace, sunshine and blue seas, he thought it better to have with him a bulletproof vest for protection.

I am certain that the 5,000 migrants who were taken to Libya much to our prime minister’s relief did not have the luxury of a bulletproof vest.

I mean, what earthly use is a bulletproof vest in a place described as ‘hell’?

A place called hell

Pope Francis differs from Abela when it comes to people forcibly taken to Libya. On July 9, he compared the situation of migrants in Libya to hell. Sending people to hell is nothing to be proud of.

“Yes, there is a war (in Libya) and we know that it is ugly, but you cannot imagine the hell that people live there in those lagers of detention.”

The tourism minister played the part of the health minister saying we can keep on importing people from all over the COVID-riddled world to participate in a mega-party debauch

Pope Francis was giving a homily during Mass commemorating his 2013 visit to Lampedusa. He had purposely chosen Lampedusa as the venue of his first trip outside the Vatican to highlight the plight of refugees.

Francis must have known that his comparison of detention camps in Libya to hell would raise eyebrows. Is it true that things are so bad, some may have asked.

The Pope pre-empted such comments. He emphasised that people are not being given a correct view of the hell in Libya. People are being given a “distilled” version of events he said, adding that he was a victim of such an attitude. His interpreter in Lampedusa had diluted the description of extreme suffering that migrants had given.

Remaining indifferent is a sin

This July homily was not the first time the pope referred to this human tragedy.

Last December, the pope called for migrant detention centres in Libya to be cleared upping the ante by adding that it was a “sin” to remain indifferent to the abuses suffered by refugees.

On this occasion he was speaking to a group of migrants who were brought to Italy from Lesbos.

“How can we fail to hear the desperate cry of so many brothers and sisters who prefer to face a stormy sea rather than die slowly in Libyan detention camps, places of torture and ignoble slavery?”, the pope said.

“How can we remain indifferent to the abuses and violence of which they are innocent victims, leaving them at the mercy of unscrupulous traffickers?” he asked. The migrant crisis “won’t be solved by preventing them from landing.”

While Abela dubbed as ‘scaremongers’ those warning him of the dangers of coronavirus he also took a dig at those he described as “forces” in Malta who were hindering the efforts of the government on migration as their policy is “for Malta to take every board departing Libya”. It is not clear who he was referring to. It seems that Abela does not have critics at heart.

When he was recently asked about the pope’s reference to the Libyan lagers, Abela’s answer skirted the problem. The pope says that sending the migrants back to Libya is obscene. Abela thinks that it is a solution.

Francis and Abela are made of very different cloth.

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