It is the EU that must outsmart human traffickers

Smugglers operate on a business model, adapting their businesses to decisions by the EU and the EU needs to be smart enough to ensure that policies that address this issue are in place

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat with French President Emmanuel Macron
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat with French President Emmanuel Macron

It is in moments of difficulty that true leadership emerges. When everyone is lost for a solution or ducking away from the real issue, true leaders step in and come up with solutions that can actually work.

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat took on this role in the MV Lifeline case when he proposed an ad hoc solution based on responsibility-sharing between EU Member States who are willing to find a proper solution to this issue.

It is the first time that one Member State leader managed to convince other eight Member States of the European Union plus Norway, to come together and share amongst them the 234 rescued migrants on board the MV Lifeline.

Roping in different Member States as the Prime Minister of Malta managed to do in this case was no mean feat, considering how much of a politically-heated debate migration is in the Member States of the EU. Prime Minister Joseph Muscat succeeded in sending a clear message that sharing the responsibility can take place if the political will does exist.

That is the real crux of the matter. There are Member States who do not want to take refugees into their countries. They are willing to pay money, make nice speeches about the issue but then when it comes to actual action from their end, they are nowhere to be seen.

A policy that will succeed is a policy that takes into account all facets of the issue, starting first and foremost from the humanitarian aspect of the people involved. Making a difference between economic migrants and refugees in need of protection. Making sure to offer full protection to the latter and processing the applications of the former accordingly.

I am convinced that the obstacle to truly managing the migration crisis is the lack of political will. We have seen the governments of the member states postponing any concrete decision one summit after the other, one year after the other.

Held hostage by their own internal political conflicts, a number of heads of states and governments have not had the courage to agree to real solutions. We see it also in the latest conclusions of the meeting of all the 28 EU Member States where it was clearly stated that any policies and measures will be taken on board only on a “voluntary” basis.

Countries like ours, who are at the forefront of the issue, understand more than others the immediate need of solidarity. Moreover, we understand that any policy needs to have more than just one layer.

Finding a solution to the Dublin reform – which seems still far away – will not be the silver bullet to the issue. We need to make sure that we have in place a proper return system for people who do not qualify for asylum. We need to make sure that there are legal channels for people who need protection. There needs to be proper measures in place for those countries that need skilled workers and to be able to match the qualifications of people outside the EU to the skill needs of the EU countries. Relocation and resettlement need to be translated into action. All these policies together can make a difference and start putting EU citizens’ minds at rest that this issue is being dealt with properly.

The EU needs to address the trafficking of human beings but this can only be truly delivered if a comprehensive approach is adopted. Smugglers operate on a business model, adapting their businesses to decisions by the EU and the EU needs to be smart enough to ensure that policies that address this issue are in place.

Zooming in to Malta, we have seen our country not only take the lead over the past few days, but also being the only country – along with Ireland – to have fulfilled the relocation of migrants from Italy and Greece. It’s called consistency. We expect others to be consistent too.

Which brings me to the PN Opposition in our country. Listening to PN Leader Adrian Delia talking about national interest and expressing full support to the government’s decisions on both the MV Aquarius and MV Lifeline cases, I welcomed his words as a change in attitude in favour of defending Malta’s interests at EU level. But it only took Adrian Delia one press conference to retract.

Adrian Delia has to decide where he stands. He can’t try to convince us that he has a humanitarian approach towards the issue of migration but then, at the same time, pushes forward an underlying far-right narrative by trying to scare people about an invasion of “thousands” of migrants.

Adrian Delia needs to be clear what his policy is. He says that he does not want to gain any political mileage from the issue but at the same time he is not even trying to differentiate between people seeking asylum, refugees in need of protection and foreign workers. By mentioning all of them together, as though they are one category, he is not doing anyone – let alone himself – any favours and he is definitely not contributing to a constructive debate.

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