Will this road ever change? - Josianne Cutajar
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Will this road ever change? - Josianne Cutajar

“It’s a long road that has no turning” is an Irish proverb roughly suggesting that doing the same thing over and over again does not render any benefit or entertainment. Sticking to the regulation on the examination and processing of asylum requests, agreed to in Dublin some three decades ago, is similarly neither beneficial nor is it gaining any popular trust for the European Union.

On the contrary, it is fuelling rabid xenophobic tendencies we had pledged to eradicate. The writing is on the wall on the worrying, right-wing trend in our national discourse, as shown by Peppi Azzopardi ploughing through years’ worth of racist mail, and Sara Ezabe, a Maltese citizen, be­ing at the receiving end of hate speech just for practising her religion. Granted, there is much work left to do to combat xenophobia at a national level; however, it is crystal clear to me that the current European context is doing nothing to shift this political climate. 

Last month’s stand-off on our very doorstep left no fewer than 49 people, mothers and children included, out at sea for nearly 20 days.

The deadlock is the direct result of the failed Dublin Regulation, which binds the first country the migrants arrive in to process their asylum claims. It is also the result of a relocation programme agreed to in September 2015, which was abrupt­ly stopped in September 2017, following pressure from Eastern European countries.

Only two months later, the European Parliament approved a balanced proposal. It established that applicants without genuine links to a particular country would be offered a choice between the four countries that would have received the least number of migrants. While not encouraging migration to wealthier States, the proposal also included a calculation of the fair share for each Member State.

We should be focusing on building a European agency responsible both for the processing of asylum requests and for search and rescue operations

Like others before it, the proposal remained a dead letter, as the unfortunate political climate and the right-wing wave induced by this kind of inaction encouraged Member States to take a different approach. They opted to bolster border control and externalise asylum processing.

The latter proved challenging in practice, as North African countries are in no shape to commit to due processing in adequate conditions.

I am grateful that our Prime Minister once again managed to find a solution that highlights Malta’s humanity while keeping in mind our political determination to solve issues, and not postpone them. However, the time is up for ad hoc solutions, just as it is for the Dublin system.

Focusing our debate on asylum quotas has failed us time and time again. We should be focusing on building a European agency responsible both for the processing of asylum requests and search and rescue operations. This agency should be duly equipped to distribute people equitably among States, and to support States’ reception infrastructure and resources.

Still, this agency would not render benefits unless the plan to bolster Frontex (the European border and coast guard) is put into effect for operations of search and rescue in the Mediterranean.

As a citizen of a small country in the heart of the Mediterranean, I tend to empathise with all those fearing for their neighbourhood’s safety when witnessing extensive influxes of unidentified people. The cautious yet effective approach adop­ted by government to reinforce security and patrolling of particularly sensitive zones, will bring benefits both in the short term and the long term.

We would have to be blind to think un­controlled migration does not bring its own risks. But I strongly believe that migration is not as dangerous to us Europeans or our Union as the inability of the political class to agree on a plan that would see responsibilities being shared.

It is high time that we embark on a different road, but it takes strong political will to choose it.

Josianne Cutajar is a Labour Party MEP candidate.

This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece

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