The tiny island of Lampedusa, Italy has witnessed a “jailbreak” of around 700 immigrants from their detention centre. The centre where the immigrants were held is designed to hold 850 immigrants but is currently bursting at the seams with over 2000 residents. The Lampedusa mayor described the event as a “protest” rather than an escape. These events come hot on the heels of a UN Report on the situation of immigrants on Malta in which the UN said that Malta could do more for the immigrants (and that’s a euphemism):
Malta’s detention policy for irregular immigrants was heavily criticised by a United Nations working group that described the conditions at Safi and Lyster barracks as appalling and detrimental to the immigrants’ health. The UN Working Group on Arbitary Detention yesterday presented its preliminary findings after a five-day trip that included visits to the detention centres, Corradino Correctional Facilities and meetings with the government.
Both small Mediterranean islands receive a disproportionate amount of immigrants who end up on their land while on their way to mainland Europe. Both islands are facing a logistical disaster that is a humanitarian crisis in the making. The problem for the governments of Italy and Malta is that the idea of “burden sharing” is a tough one to sell. Outgoing US Ambassador to Malta Molly Bordonaro described an agreement between Malta and the USA for the US to relieve Malta of a number of immigrants as a resounding success. Small wonder that it was. Few other countries, especially in the EU block are willing to engage in the burden sharing business. Immigrants and immigration is a dirty business and the less hands are sullied the better.
Governments see immigration as a short-term catastrophe. Creating solutions rarely rakes in votes when the solutions mean a better life for the immigrants. It also means less incentive on the part of cynic politicians to try. More and more citizens resent the presence of immigrants on their land. Threats to jobs are mentioned and all it takes is the presence of immigrants at state funded hospitals to light the ever shorter fuse of intolerance. The racism card is waved all too easily at times but the problem goes far beyond simple black or white.
One would expect that an issue such as illegal immigration and immigration would be a top issue for the elections for the European Parliament. But how far do the powers of the EP go when it comes to EU action on immigration? Is the EP much more than an organised pressure group on the governments? Will it win any tug of war with Council on the issue? Maltese candidates tend to tow the party line on this matter. Sofar neither of the two behemoths that squat the limelight of Maltese politics have produced satisfactory conclusions – whether you see this from the perspective of humanitarian NGOs or of far right loonies proposing to shoot immigrants on sight and turn them back to their shores.
On the one hand the topic of illegal immigration might not be that much of a priority when it comes to chosing Malta’ next MEPs (5 in all). On the other hand it does serve to illustrate how unrepresentative the candidates can really be when they are stuck to an incompetent, opportunistic party line that does not seem to go much farther than blaming the elements.
This post also appears on The Malta Chronicle.