On Easter Monday last year the government of Malta coordinated an illegal push back. The refugees on the boat, including children, were returned to a war zone. Twelve people died. The Prime Minister assured us that he felt serene.

As I write, the fate of 110 asylum seekers is unknown. Parents and loved ones will be desperately waiting for news, staring at a phone, waiting for that one message. Try to imagine what that dread must feel like. Can you? That cold weight in your stomach, that terror in your heart. That ability to empathise, humanises both them and us.

It is not just lives that have been needlessly lost, it is our own humanity. The recent, damning report, published by the Council of Europe's anti-torture committee speaks to the moral depravity that has come to define our nation. 
April 6 also marks the second anniversary of Lassana Cisse, brutally gunned down, killed in cold blood. His crime? Apparently being black and having the audacity to be living in Malta.

For the past two decades, refugees and persons of colour have served as a convenient scapegoat, an expedient distraction from political scandals

Our borders, internal and external, continue to demarcate who is human, worthy of saving, who belongs, and who has the right to rights. Racialised violence is deeply imbedded in the political, economic and social structures of Maltese society, and there appears to be very little appetite to do anything about it.

In truth, I see very little reason to believe that this will change any time soon. For the past two decades, refugees and persons of colour have served as a convenient scapegoat, an expedient distraction from political scandals.

As the country reels from a global pandemic, as economic inequalities become more entrenched, as citizens learn more about the extent of political corruption, and as the people continue to lose faith in their government, political and democratic institutions, race and refugee arrivals serve as the tried and tested tool to deflect attention away from the political crisis and national security threat manifest in abuse of power and influence.

And so, once again, the nation is called to unite against the imaginary threat of a boat of black people who literally have nothing but the clothes on their back, crying out, asking that we don’t leave them to drown.

For sure, we live in challenging times. History is being written and our children will understand that putting people in cages, the murder of Lassana and leaving people to drown are intimately linked to systemic racism, the politics of nation and unchecked capitalism, the strength of our democratic institutions and the values that define what it means to be Maltese.

As this country navigates its way out of a pandemic, coinciding with a political and economic crisis that will define a generation, we are more aware than ever of the importance of ethical and responsible leadership. Perhaps we can start with this: Stop putting asylum seekers in cages. Don’t let them drown. Remember Lassana and why he was killed. 

Dr Maria Pisani is an academic at the University of Malta


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