The Maltese government is justifying to the rest of the world why it refused a request from around 300 migrants, including pregnant women, children and babies, shivering in the cold Mediterranean Sea and escaping from gunshots, torture and burnings, to provide them with some food.
The explanation? Malta is not legally obliged to provide food and according to the estimation of crew that went on the ship to airlift a mother who had just given birth and her stateless baby, the ship had two days’ worth of food on board.
That’s all right then. Since Malta’s harbour is closed to this boat and the 300 people on board — as are Italy’s — they are sailing towards the only Betlehem inn that will receive them: Algeciras in Spain. It will take them at least six days to get there.
If my math is right — what with all the booze this time of year — Malta’s crew has estimated food for 300 people will run out before Christmas and it’ll be almost next year before these people are on terra firma again.
But that’s ok. We’re not actually legally obliged to give food to hungry people. “A Maltese spokesman (quoted by the BBC) said the airlift had gone beyond Malta’s legal obligations, as the migrants were rescued on Friday in waters supervised by Libya.”
They could have waited for a rescue boat from Libya to bring them to safety and a warm meal. After all the United Nations just this Thursday said migrants travelling through Libya to Europe were subject to “unimaginable horrors” in the lawless country.
Most women and older teenage girls say they were raped by smugglers or traffickers, the report said.
“Across Libya, unidentified bodies of migrants and refugees bearing gunshot wounds, torture marks and burns are frequently uncovered in rubbish bins, dry river beds, farms and the desert,” it said.
The story lends itself to some obvious pontifications about the irony this is happening in Christmas week, that it is a poor representation of our understanding of Christianity, that the moral obligation of feeding the hungry, sheltering the hunted, and saving the drowning by far supersedes legal obligations.
But that’s not what this is about at all. It’s no less lacking in basic human decency if this was happening any given February Sunday when stories of unwanted refugees are not told on pulpits by plump altar boys who will be helping pass out the carved turkey in the morning.