Italy and Malta have populist governments and they are both pandering to the basic popular attitude of racial prejudice and indifference to the needs of others. The references to international law are convenient and facetious: they are the brandishing of excuses to avoid having to do what’s right even if unpopular.

Of course brushing Malta and Italy by the same stroke cannot ignore the relative differences in size. If Matteo Salvini thinks 629 people are too much for Italy, then he should think that would be a thousand times as true for Malta that is a thousand times smaller. But are we talking about people?

Or are they?

Matteo Salvini is right: Malta must assume its responsibilities. For the last 5 years, through whatever backroom deal Joseph Muscat fixed with Matteo Renzi, no African migrant landed in Malta. We’re desperate for labour but we don’t like blacks. And Joseph Muscat wore the avoidance of any arrivals from the sea as evidence of his macho success. He’s not going to climb down from that now. But he should. Malta can welcome more people. Malta should welcome more people.

Joseph Muscat is right: Italy can’t solve its migration problems by dumping them on Malta. If Matteo Salvini wants to look tough he should pick on someone his own size. Italy too has responsibilities and it can’t just choose to opt out of them when fulfilling those obligations has become too much hard work.

Matteo Salvini and Joseph Muscat are right: this is not a uniquely Italian problem or a Maltese problem. It’s a European challenge and all Europeans must live up to their responsibilities and frankly take on this challenge seriously. Its disheartening that the same populism that keeps Salvini and Muscat in power keeps May, Macron, Orban and Kaczynski riding on varying degrees of popular egoism and fear and hate of outsiders.

As politicians speak of national interest they feed into the grotesque and cartoonish exaggerations about the impact of immigration, glossing over its benefits and exploiting and misrepresenting its risks.

There are exceptions. In the midst of the frenzy jingoism of Joseph Muscat’s tough talking, Roberta Metsola’s tweet of earlier today is significantly courageous. She goes against the grain and reminds us all that while we play the big time in macho talk about protecting national interests Italy and Malta lose their sense of basic decency and humanity and let children they saved from drowning choke in the waking nightmare of an empty sea.