No sooner had we exchanged warm Christmas greetings than the rescue boat, MV Sea-Watch 3, appeared on the horizon with 49 migrant men, women and children on board. Like the family from Nazareth, the captain asked for shelter, but we shook our heads and said there was no room at the inn. Without batting an eyelid, we then flocked to our churches at Christmas to celebrate the birth of the little lord Jesus, and passionately belted out Away in a Manger with the rest of the congregation. The irony is almost too perfect.
Later, we were stuffing ourselves to the gills at our Christmas dining tables, protected from the cold and rain. Those 49 human beings and the captain’s crew were left to fend for themselves out at sea in freezing temperatures and stormy weather, risking hunger and dehydration. Heaven knows if we would have let them into a safe harbour without much ado had they, like the Three Wise Men, brought expensive gifts that would have secured Maltese citizenship for them all.
They would even be forgiven for doubting that this was the same island that gave shelter to the apostle Paul and all the other survivors of that famous shipwreck many years ago: “The islanders showed us unusual kindness. They built a fire and welcomed us all because it was raining and cold.” (Acts 28:2) Sorry, but we don’t do kindness any more. It’s a thing of the past.
Seawatch crew and passengers learn that they will be allowed to disembark
We are a far cry from those islanders. And we allow bad things to keep on happening without as much of a whimper. Those who stand up to be counted are mocked and told, in menacing tones, to host the migrants in their own homes. The rest of us need to be reminded that if we were in the migrants’ shoes, we’d be desperately hoping that others wouldn’t turn their backs on our plight.
Like Italy’s leaders did, when they stomped about like schoolyard bullies and closed off all Italian seaports. Or when the Maltese authorities failed to do the right thing and allow the migrants to disembark on humanitarian grounds. We can no longer seize the moral high ground and call out the rest of the member states on their hypocrisy when it comes to implementing solidarity, one of the fundamental values that the EU is built upon.
It is a crying shame that it took nearly three weeks of negotiations with other affluent EU states to agree on sharing just a handful of refugees. Despite fine words and earnest assurances, the latest standoff continues to highlight the failure of the EU’s migration policy. Come next rescue boat — for there will be others – Malta will be left alone once again to bear the brunt of a new refugee crisis in the Mediterranean Sea.
If these events that marked the beginning of 2019 are to be viewed as a reflection of what the new year holds in store for us, then the forecast is very gloomy indeed.