No Step is Too Small
Today is World Refugee Day; an important moment in the year when we reflect on the fact that millions of families are living far from their homes and leaving everything behind because of war or persecution.
Today is World Refugee Day; an important moment in the year when we reflect on the fact that millions of families are living far from their homes and leaving everything behind because of war or persecution. These families are much like yours or mine.
Around the world, there are a total of 70 million people who are refugees or who have been displaced by violence within their own countries.
Every region of the world is impacted in some way and today a volatile mix of political, environmental, economic, ethnic, and territorial factors often combine to trigger conflicts.
When people seek refuge from violence there are international laws which protect them, but the communities receiving them and welcoming them, also provide protection and much needed assistance in practical terms. We know that more than 85% of refugees are hosted in developing or middle income countries – with some nations hosting two or three million people. This is a significant burden and responsibility for countries and communities often facing economic challenges themselves, and an enormous ask for any country. We are encouraged by those who are leading the way, especially in these challenging times.
As a small island-nation with limited capacity, including geographical limitations, Malta makes significant contributions and plays a responsible role.
Through the Armed Forces of Malta, this country has saved thousands of people from the sea and throughout the years Malta has provided support to people who are fleeing war or persecution.
While sudden influxes of people may present challenges, we should remember that behind the numbers there are men, women and families just likes our own who find themselves with no other option but to cross the Mediterranean Sea on unseaworthy vessels, risking their lives for safety and for a better future. While many people are saved, many have died in their attempt to reach safety.
We are encouraged by the Government’s policy in setting up an integration framework and promoting social inclusion. The Prime Minister’s comment that “racism has no place in Malta” at time of great populist and anti-migration climate is commendable.
Further structural changes – on the type of international protection status granted to asylum-seekers, facilitation of access to services, and improvement of employment conditions – are also needed to ensure that the Government’s inclusion strategy has an impactful result.
Today, a number of refugees are living in the local community, many of them working, opening businesses, and sending their children to school to grow up alongside Maltese children. If Malta is currently experiencing economic growth, it is partly thanks to the many refugees and other migrants who build your houses and roads, take care of the elderly, pick up the rubbish, clean streets and offices, drive taxis, wash the dishes, cook and serve you at restaurants. Refugees are nurses, engineers, shop owners, and teachers, amongst other professions. They are also university students – the aspiring graduates who will help shape this country’s future.
They are part of Malta’s success and flourishing economy. They are part of our community. This is a story that it is not often told.
This year will again be challenging for Malta. The number of asylum-seekers and migrants arriving is likely to increase. This means additional pressure on Malta’s reception and support system.
This will likely fuel toxic rhetoric and scapegoating by some groups who target refugees and migrants.
The murder of Lassana Cisse Souleyman, and the news that he was shot dead by two, now former, Armed Forces of Malta soldiers, was tragic and shocking. While it should not be a reflection on the good work of the AFM or society as whole, it should nonetheless be taken as a cautionary tale against a toxic environment where refugees and migrants are maligned and dehumanised.
We urge for responsible conduct and public discourse when discussing the issue of migration and asylum. This should come from politicians, media and each and every one of us. We are heartened that the Government is planning to take tough action against those who incite violence towards refugees and migrants.
There needs to be more emphasis on the diversity of our communities, including action by both refugees and Maltese. In thousands of communities around the world, individuals are making a difference. Global grassroots solidarity for people forced to flee is helping to turn intolerance into acceptance, and toxicity into positivity. People from all walks of life, are unified in their efforts to choose inclusion over exclusion.
Unfortunately these positive steps that so many communities, companies and countries are taking with refugees rarely capture headlines, yet these inspiring stories of compassion and welcome need to be told and shared.
This spirit of participation, of shared responsibility, is enshrined in the UN Global Compact on Refugees adopted by the United National General Assembly late last year. The Compact marks a new era of international cooperation and provides a blueprint for better responses; The Global Compact is a framework for more predictable and equitable responsibility-sharing, recognizing that a sustainable solution to refugee situations cannot be achieved without international cooperation. All of us have a part to play. We cannot do it alone.
No step is too small. If we all take a step with refugees – people forced to flee their homes – then together we can make a world of difference.