Rights & Interests: The Distorted Progressivism of Joseph Muscat

Article 14 (1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that "Everyone has the right to seek and enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution". This should be read in conjunction with Article 33 (1) of the 1951 Geneva Convention on the Status of the Refugee which holds: "No Contracting State shall expel or return (“refouler”) a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion."

These two principles, i.e. the right to seek asylum and the principle of non-refoulement are inextricably linked and together they form the very cornerstone of refugee law. Because one cannot exist without the other, the principle of non-refoulement applies not only to established refugees but also to those claiming asylum. This is so, because in order to protect refugees "asylum applicants must be treated on the assumption that they may be refugees until their status has been determined." Therefore, to say that Malta or any other nation should, in principle, reject asylum seekers entry into its territory simply because other States did so, or because solidarity is lacking at a European level in this regard, would be to tacitly accept such a gross violation of international law and basic human rights. To laud such acts and justify them on national interest grounds is, to put it mildly, a revolting act.

I said it once and I'll say it again: human rights are non-negotiable. If we are to presume, for the sake of presumption, that human rights are indeed malleable legal institutions than there would be no harm done in prosecuting writers and publishers for their work as this could easily be justified in the 'national interest' or the 'common good'. Even more so with civil and political rights such as divorce and the right to vote, unfettered, upon attaining the age of majority. And if it is indeed true that in order to change things you need to win and be in power, nothing would justify stooping so miserably low for the sake of achieving that power. They say that power corrupts. It seems to me that the quest for power tends to corrupt even more. For there is a serious moral corruption in denying men, women and children protection from degrading treatment, torture or death to score political points. Truth be told, such policies led me to resign in anger from the Labour Party in the past, not support it. Neither, in my opinion, do such policies deserve justification to keep the extreme-right at bay. It is good to know and respect one's enemies but an altogether different story to think, believe and act like them.

To be truly progressive you must confront both religio and patria - the cultural hegemony that has thwarted true liberty and sense of being in Malta after decades of Nationalist one-party rule. You cannot merely seem to be acting on one pillar but defending the other because that only makes one slightly different, if at all. Defending and exalting the patria made sense decades ago in colonial times but not so today and if one were to make the claim that we are a colony under Brussels or the northern nations that, to me, smacks of defeatism and close-mindedness not progressivism. Progressivism is to confront Brussels and Italy and France and Germany and confessional right-wing nationalists and not to act like them.

Dr. Muscat has on several occasions made the claim that he overrode the zealously cautious wisdom of his advisors, for "it would have been easy not to act or speak" on controversial issues that are in conflict the opinion or belief of the substantial majority - but why not so on immigration? Is it because the numbers and percentages on this one are too one-sided? I seriously thought that this ingrained mentality would start to seep away after the events in Libya unmasked the true face of Ghaddafi and the Libyan regime on the presumption that there would be a greater sense of compassion for those migrants seeking to flee from the hell-hole that is Ghadaffi's Libya. The same Ghadaffi that uses migrants as mercenaries under pain of death. But it seems that the more things change the more they stay the same.

What is it to be progressive on immigration? It is to embrace people's rights to seek asylum from persecution without distinction yet to acknowledge that Malta, a small island state with scarce resources and manpower, has its limits. It is to scrap the entire detention regime with one that is more justiciable, efficient and humane. It is to recognize that people come before nations and religions and vested interests. It is to end the hypocrisy and the bigotry in a nation where divorce and obscene writing seem to be a greater evil than the death of persons by persecution or at sea. It is to flex one's muscles with politicians unwilling to give a helping hand and with tyrants willing to use people as blackmail and bargaining chips as opposed to scratching their backs. It is to recognise that migrants are not always a 'burden' but also an asset. It is to end the exploitation of migrants in the labour market and give them equal rights such that they are on an equal footing with Maltese workers. It is to educate Maltese society, especially the working class, that it has nothing to fear but much to gain. It is to recognise that some migrants are here to stay and to actively facilitate their integration even by giving them voting rights in council and European elections. It is all these things and many more. Until then, with all due respect, do not call yourself progressive because it just doesn't work.

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