Once upon a time, more than 200 years ago, on the southernmost military outpost of the British Empire in the Atlantic, the island of St Helena (the island where Napoleon Bonaparte spent his last days in exile), a slave baby boy was born. Samuel was the illegitimate child of a British ‘planter’ and a slave woman of colour and therefore his father was also his owner. Samuel later went on to marry Mary Ann, also a woman of colour but who was free from slavery, and together they raised a large family. According to a number of scant records, later on, through hard graft and a considerable sum of money, even for that time, he managed to buy his freedom and by extension, that of his family. Samuel and Mary Ann were my great-great-great grandparents.
Widowed at a relatively young age, Mary Ann together with a number of her children moved to another British military outpost, Malta, and the rest as they say in my family, is ancient history. For all intents and purposes, Mary Ann and her family were just another group of immigrants. But here is where the similarity between Mary Ann and her family and the thousands of modern-day immigrants making the crossing across the Med, ends. Mary Ann was a subject of the British crown and therefore a legal migrant enabling her and her family to settle on our island regardless of her colour, creed, or status. The same cannot be said for those landing on our shores, who arrive here on the whims of the several NGOs loitering on our seas and for whom this is nothing but a lucrative business.
Knowing that my ancestors were people of colour, that my blood carries the DNA of slaves and that these were essentially immigrants, however, does not alter my views nor my concerns in relation to the situation unfolding in my beloved Malta. Yes, every human being has a right to a better life, whatever that is, but not at the expense of flouting laws which ultimately dictate how a civilised country fares. I, too, in my salad days, have longed to forge a better life in a foreign land but I and hundreds of others would not dream of simply landing in a place and take advantage of a country’s benevolence without due process. That said, the real problem lies not with these people, but the lethargic governments including the EU as a whole who choose to look the other way without addressing the core of this issue. Would it not benefit both the EU and North African Countries to ensure there is an adequate infrastructure to sustain a better quality of life for these people? How can Africa ever recover and resolve its many, many shortcomings if its able-bodied young men keep leaving its shores, draining it of its most important resource – manpower?
Meanwhile, I have been called many things in my life but none as ridiculous as being called a racist pig, just for voicing what I feel are more than legitimate concerns. I do not look at the colour of one’s skin (how can I?) or ask what religion or culture they embrace if anyone, ever, needs my help. Besides, the idea that I could even begin to make a distinction between one person and another because of their race, given my ancestry, is frankly, laughable. An incident from a few years back comes to mind. Upon admission at Mater Dei for a routine gynaecology procedure and meeting the doctor on duty, I did not at any point think, “Shit! It’s a black doctor,” but rather “Shit! It’s a man doctor,” and given the nature of my admission to hospital, I believe that that was quite a legitimate concern.
However, the fact remains, that this taking issue with and dismissing anyone who even dares to complain of the current situation as racist is simply a lazy but sure-fire way to silence any opposition. The racism card is the easiest to play, ignoring the legitimate concerns of thousands, most of whom, on deeper analysis would certainly not wish any harm to befall any other human being, regardless of whether they are black, purple or rainbow hued.
We are at a point where to simply question the status quo begets the wrath of all those who either have a lucrative personal agenda, or no idea of the situation on the ground, or else, just simply do not care. Illegal immigration has become a scourge of uncontrollable proportions, an unprecedented burden for our country which is seeing swathes of the island turn into no-go zones and whole communities decimated to a shadow of their former selves. How can a country like ours accommodate some 22,000 of these illegal aliens and not expect some form of disquiet from the natives who are seeing their way of life deteriorating beyond recognition? Just ask the residents of Birzebbuga, Marsa, Hamrun and Bugibba and perhaps you’ll get a clear snapshot of how life in their neighbourhoods has irrevocably changed. More to the point, how can anyone expect the rest of us to just bow our heads to illegal bringers of foreign cultures who have, time and time again, shown that they have neither the will nor the inclination to adapt to their host country’s way of life? Furthermore, is the office of the Commissioner for Refugees well equipped to truly recognise who deserves refugee status, who needs humanitarian aid and who is truly an illegal immigrant?
But this unfortunately, as everything else on this island, has become another divisive either/or issue. You are either totally for or totally against. You are either a benevolent human being who is ready to accommodate the whole of Africa at all costs and to hell with the consequences or a cold-blooded murderer who does not give a toss as to how many lives are lost at sea. This is not the case by any stretch of the imagination and there are many nuances to this situation which need to be explored. However, this vociferous and offensive labelling of people has now taken on a more sinister hue, aided and abetted by a lethargic Europe and a heavily biased media. I, for one, refuse to take to the streets and join some of those whose vitriol for black people is a shameful mark on our country, I simply do not identify. But I also do not identify with those whose free-for-all stance is ruining the very fibre of our way of life, and there are many of us who share this view. So, does the fact that we are not all complacent in the face of this invasion make us all racists?
In much the same way, I do not believe that every person who lands on our shores is a criminal, but neither am I that naïve to believe that these, unqualified quantities, who oftentimes arrive here without a legal document to their name are all poets. To call someone a racist just for the simple reason that he or she does not adhere to your point of view, is as bigoted as being a true racist. Prejudice by any other name is still prejudice and not all of it concerns the colour of one’s skin. The silencing of people’s legitimate fears and concerns is after all a subtle but most cruel form of that same prejudice which hypocrites oftentimes accuse others of. With all this in mind, it would be good for those who beat their chests for these modern-day invaders, to remember that instead of posturing from the moral high ground, instead of championing the rights of people from foreign lands, why not look closer to home and take a moment to really understand what really ails your fellow countrymen…