In its description of itself, the Party of European Socialists (of which Malta’s Labour Party is a member) makes extensive reference to the principles of freedom, equality, solidarity, diversity and fairness.

In addition, it asserts that its members ‘fight’ for social justice, human rights, the rule of law and a migration policy that seeks to create a more democratic Europe.

Across Europe, political parties that lay claim to socialist or social democratic values place emphasis on social and economic equality, diversity, a focus on the weak and vulnerable and on basic human needs. 

Judging by its latest moves on migration, one would be forgiven for thinking that Malta’s Labour Party has completely abandoned all such values and instead opted for a right-wing, populist strategy devoid of any humanity.

Last month, the Ministry for Home Affairs, National Security and Law Enforcement amended Malta’s policy on how those seeking asylum or those who have had their applications for asylum rejected can or cannot legally work.

Should the minister deem particular countries to be ‘safe’ in human rights terms (a highly questionable exercise open to abuse), migrants from such countries will be denied the right to work for nine months once in Malta.

Without explanation, this decision effectively deprives hundreds of individuals and families of the possibility of generating the necessary income to secure a basic standard of living without having to depend on charity and handouts. 

As has been pointed out by the Malta Refugee Council and 28 NGOs, this strategy shift by the government increases the vulnerability of people already at risk for no identifiable reason other than punishing them for seeking protection and a better life in Malta. 

Those already subject to frequent exploitation, including having to work for well below minimum wages, will be forced further into the black economy to access their most basic needs including food, shelter, clothing, education and health. 

Adding insult to injury, this latest move fails to outline what forms of support Malta will provide to those affected, thereby promoting the likelihood of increased poverty and marginalisation. It also runs the risk of forcing people into irregular or criminal activity, further fuelling stereotyping and prejudice. 

If these strategy changes were being introduced by a right-wing populist regime devoid of any concern for democratic principles it might be understandable albeit also unforgiveable.

When introduced in a cavalier fashion without due care by a government professing to be ‘socialist’ (even if defined in its mildest form) it is reprehensible and will be devastating for those affected.

In place of developing a coherent and realistic policy on migration for Malta in the context of pressurising the EU to fulfil its obligations, the government has opted once again for an ad hoc measure designed to appeal to public prejudice and ongoing discrimination.

While such an approach might enhance the electoral odds of the Labour Party in the coming months, it is a direct and inhumane attack on weak individuals and families designed to make the government appear strong.

The new policy comes in the wake of the further inhumanity perpetrated by the deplorable conditions in which asylum seekers are kept in Malta’s detention centres, as documented recently by the United Nations Human Rights Office.

In the name of short-term political advantage, the government is prepared to damage the medium and longer-term interests of the country.

Not only does it make a mockery of government assertions about equality and inclusion, it places party interest ahead of all else.

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