On April Fool’s Day in 1940, Nazi Germany started constructing the Warsaw ghetto wall. Four hundred and fifty thousand Jews were imprisoned in an area the size of Marsa. By November, the ghetto was sealed from the world. The wall was three metres high and topped with barbed wire. Escapees were shot on site. Many died from starvation and typhus. The rest were transferred to concentration camps.
In January 1943 an uprising was triggered when the Germans entered the ghetto to round-up Jews for deportation. The Germans responded with brutal force. They systematically blew up buildings and murdered anybody they captured. Over 56,000 people were killed or deported to concentration camps.
Adrian Delia’s regular references to ghettos trivialises the horrific brutality that occurred in real ghettos. Ħamrun, Marsa and St Paul’s Bay are not ghettos. Nobody is detained, dehumanised and executed there.
As Delia’s leadership is in its death throes he has upped his racist ante.
For years he has resorted to bigoted and hateful commentary about “foreigners”. In 2018, soon after his election as leader he questioned in disgust whether our “children will be taught by Pakistanis and Bangladeshis?” After having “foreigners driving buses, is this how our children will end up?” He went on to accuse “foreigners” of “flooding the country” and “instilling fear and of causing havoc with Maltese identity”. He incited fear by claiming that “we do not know who these people are”.
Twenty-one human rights organisations condemned his “disgusting and abhorrent remarks, intended to generate hatred, discrimination and violence”. They warned Delia that taking the xenophobic route came with responsibility for racially-motivated violence that would follow.
And follow it did. In April 2019, Lassana Cisse was shot dead in cold blood while walking home from a football match. His only guilt was his dark skin. Two soldiers were charged with his murder.
One of them was “angry at black people” as they “wanted to rule the place” – the rhetoric fuelled by Delia – and drove around looking for human targets. The same two soldiers stand accused of the attempted murder of three other black men. One of their victims was run over and left for dead with a broken shoulder.
But Delia learnt nothing. His fear-mongering escalated. “Malta is being taken over by outsiders” and “foreign workers are undermining what was truly Maltese”. He insisted that “low-quality foreigners” were “frightening children”, without any evidence. What is a “low-quality” human being and how were they frightening children?
As his final showdown approaches, he resorts to more inflammatory rhetoric: “Ghettos are being created by international crime groups. Foreigners have taken over areas around Malta and Gozo. They are robbing Maltese of their liberty, making elderly scared and youths afraid”.
While the government violates human rights and breaches international obligations, Adrian Delia aids and abets the injustice by vilifying ‘foreigners’- Kevin Cassar
He uses the religion card to call for action: “Don’t be afraid to stand up for your Christian values”. Presumably his Christian values include inciting hate towards ‘low-quality foreigners’.
My direct experiences of “foreigners” are my work colleagues. I am one of three consultant vascular surgeons in Malta. My two colleagues are “foreigners”. They are wholly dedicated to the public service and do not practise outside hospital. Anybody sustaining damage to arteries through falls, traffic accidents, disease or stabbings will find a “foreigner” saving his life or limb 66 per cent of the time.
They often work with “foreign” nurses and “foreign” anaesthetists at any time of day or night. The theatre is cleaned by dedicated “foreign” cleaners ensuring risks of infection are kept low. It is often “foreign” porters who will help transfer the patient to the ward and “foreign” nurses and doctors who will provide the care there.
Other essential areas are manned by “foreigners” who not only work with dedication but are also law-abiding tax-paying contributors to the economy. For Delia these do not count. They are not convenient for his narrative.
The Times of Malta editorial of September 9 concluded that Delia’s pandering to the basest racist attitudes, out of sheer desperation to hang on to his post, was utterly revolting.
What is worse is that we have real ghettos and are planning to create more. Safi detention centre, like the Warsaw ghetto, has high walls and imprisons vulnerable people inside it. The conditions are intolerable and inhumane. Recent images from Safi showed overcrowded bunks and squalid conditions, tattered clothing and worn-out shoes.
One immigrant has died after falling from the surrounding fence trying to escape. In desperation, the detainees rioted. An unlicensed security officer allegedly used his own personal unlicensed firearm to shoot and injure a fleeing migrant. NGOs have been prevented from visiting detainees for months.
Robert Abela’s government has created other ghettos at sea using pleasure craft to detain migrants unlawfully in horrific conditions. In its recent report ‘Malta: Waves of Impunity’, Amnesty international documented the multiple human rights violations and unlawful acts committed by the Maltese government: pushbacks to Libya, delays in attending to distress calls, denial of disembarkation, unlawful detention for weeks.
Amnesty insists that the Maltese authorities must be held accountable for the gross violations which have led to 12 confirmed deaths and probably countless others.
Holding the government to account is the role of the opposition party and, particularly, its leader. But Adrian Delia has not uttered a single word in response to the damning Amnesty International report about Malta.
In the face of untold suffering and death to a multitude of human beings his declared Christian values seem to evaporate. Why? Because migrants in distress are not ‘tesserati’ (paid up members) of the party who have a vote that will determine his future.
While the government of Malta violates basic human rights and breaches international obligations, Delia aids and abets the injustice by dehumanising and vilifying “foreigners”.
By making “foreigners” an object of hate and revulsion, he contributes to the overtly-xenophobic culture that supports violence and mistreatment of the most vulnerable – which is exactly what happened at another ghetto in Warsaw.
Kevin Cassar is Professor of surgery and former PN candidate.
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