On the 22nd of December, Sea-Watch 3, an international rescue boat belonging to the NGO Sea-Watch rescued 32 immigrants at sea. Another boat, the Professor Albrecht Penck, operated by the NGO Sea-Eye rescued 17 migrants a week later. Today these two vessels and the combined total of 49 migrants sit line astern around 3 nautical miles off the Maltese coast. The sit there not out of choice; but because no country has opted to grant them a port of safety for disembarkation.
Cases like this haven’t been rare occurrences over the past six months. One must only look to cases involving the MV Lifeline, the MV Aquarius, the Sea-Watch 3 itself, and the Proactiva Open Arms as examples of such cases. I will not get into the full details of this specific situation, because a quick Google search will provide a step by step happening of this story as it happened though on any major news portal in Malta and internationally. Instead I have a couple of questions that I, as a Maltese Citizen, would love answers to.
I get that this is a very sensitive situation for the Maltese Government. This has been a point of contention for a while – flashback to the Lifeline situation back in June. It seems like Italy and Malta are back at it again, playing their part in a power struggle so to get noticed and seen by the rest of the EU. The fact that fighting and throwing a national tantrum is the only way that the rest of Europe hears us is already childish enough. This has mostly to do with the Dublin III regulation, which states that the country responsible for the first point of entry within the European Union is responsible for the immigrant. In this case, the Maltese are arguing that although the migrants are currently in Maltese territorial waters, they were not found in Malta’s Search and Rescue (SAR) zone, and were rescued closer to Italy meaning that Malta has no legal responsibility to take the migrants in themselves.
Let me remind these governments that they are not only to abide by EU law, but are also obliged to adhere with international treaties and regulations. Does the 1951 Geneva Convention on the protection of refugees ring a bell? The Refugee Convention defines a refugee ‘as a person who is outside his or her country of nationality or habitual residence; has a well-founded fear of being persecuted because of his or her race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion; and is unable or unwilling to avail him— or herself of the protection of that country, or to return there, for fear of persecution’ as found in Article 1A(2). The obligations of the states towards the protection of these refugees is found in Article 31 of this Convention.
I must say that I do understand the government’s view on this situation: yes we are over-crowded , and yes we are trying to control and sort this issue out in our country, and yes the Maltese public are – seemingly – not very happy about the situation either. But, here is my plea to you.
We, citizens of Malta, were born in a tiny, relatively safe island, with a feel of community like no other. We grow up surrounded by family and friends that have been here all our lives. We are given opportunities to learn and study with free education and we have free public healthcare when we are sick. We also have governmental social services and private NGOs who help families in need. In no way do we live in perfect situation, we have our flaws like every other country, but we are provided with all our basic human rights and so much more. We have been entitled to all of this, by sheer dumb luck.
What makes us more privileged and better than these people to get all of these opportunities, opportunities that have been taken for granted in our households? Nothing, but luck. The fact that we were born here not there.
Therefore who am I to not give these basic human rights to others, who have left all they know, who have left their families and who have gone through unspeakable hardship to get here? How can I think I am more important than these children on a boat in the middle of winter, wet and cold. Who am I to deny them the opportunity for them to fulfill their basic rights? Why do I share that I have donated my money for causes on the island but cannot spare even a thought for people who are are willing to swim to get to land? How are we condemning the murder of unborn lives yet at the same time turning a blind eye to the safety of the lives right at our doorstep? How are we letting the authorities pull a Pontius Pilate and wash the blood of these people off their hands?
You might say, I’m a nobody, what can I do? There’s a very minuscule chance that anyone important will read this article, but that is not my aim. If I have convinced one person to share a photo, a news article or just merely a hashtag on any of their social media that is enough. Let’s be aware of what is happening around us, and let’s take a stand. Let’s #OpenThePorts. Anything so that we #DontLetThemDrown.
Images: Chris Grodotzki – SeaWatch