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NEWS | Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Tonio Borg – migration greatest challenge in 1,000 years

Matthew Vella

Justice and Home Affairs Minister Tonio Borg yesterday said Malta’s migration challenge was the greatest challenge the island has ever had to face, “in one thousand years” at the Wilton Park Conference on the Challenges and Opportunities for Stronger Euro-Med Cooperation, organised by the director of Wilton Park, Nick Hopkinson, and the director of the Mediterranean Academy of Diplomatic Studies, Stephen Calleya.
Describing migration as a “human tragedy on a global scale”, he acknowledged that human rights violations, inequitable distribution of wealth, war and persecution would continue to displace millions of migrants in their search for a better economic standard and quality of life.
“It is one of the key challenges of the 21st century. Its global, economic and social repercussions affect the countries from which migrants migrate, the countries to which they migrate and, of course, the migrants themselves.
“For Malta it is, I dare say, probably the most important social and cultural challenge it has faced for a very long time – possibly the greatest in more than one thousand years.”
Borg said Malta had already confronted the opportunities and challenges of migration with its diaspora three decades ago to Australia, Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom, saying the island was not “unsympathetic” to migration and that it had “benefited directly from the economic and social advantages that flowed from such emigration” through remittances sent back to Malta from migrants.
But he said Malta is now confronted by irregular and illegal immigration which was impacting one of the most densely populated countries in the world, claiming the arrival of one irregular immigrant into Malta was relatively equivalent to the arrival of 140 irregular immigrants into Italy.
“For Malta, the smallest country in the European Union and one of the most densely and built up in the world irregular immigration poses challenges of the most serious magnitude… Since 2002 almost nine thousand irregular immigrants have landed in Malta. This is the equivalent over the same period of about 1.3 million reaching the United Kingdom or almost 1.9 million entering Germany.”
Borg said Malta recognised its international and moral responsibilities to provide asylum, saying its response has been “generous, just and humane”.
But he called for a unified response to be adopted internationally by addressing the countries of origin from which irregular immigrants depart such as sub-Saharan countries, and transit countries like Libya.
He suggested five separate elements to managing the problem, namely arrangements for return to countries of origin; improvements to border management; eliminating human trafficking; better management of migration from transit countries; and better, reception and integration of migrants in destination countries – a sore point for Borg’s mandatory detention policy which has attracted the ire of many human rights watchdogs in the last years.
He also suggested that EU development aid should be made conditional on repatriation as an incentive to closer cooperation.
Borg said Malta was working hard together with EU countries to obtain Libya’s cooperation in discouraging traffickers and called for an increase in the frequency of Frontex patrols in the Mediterranean.
He also proposed a migration management approach be based on a Blue Card system that would select economic migrants according to the needs of EU member states.
Borg called for tolerance, understanding, acceptance and respect towards irregular immigrants to be “actively fostered” but warned that immigrants will have to be willing to integrate with “our basic European values, to have a knowledge of our history, our language, religion and our institution. To be prepared to assimilate in a country of equal opportunity on an equal basis and in an atmosphere of mutual tolerance. You cannot have integration without cohesion and a willingness by asylum seekers to adapt to the new culture in which they have come to live.”

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