Byron Camilleri said yesterday the reports of hunger strikes and attempted suicides aboard the Captain Morgan boats out on Hurd’s Bank did not get to him. He’s under the impression migrants are perfectly happy to be held on the boats just beyond sight of Malta without any prospect or plan for what’s happening next to them.
Soon after he made his remarks videos started making the rounds of shining, happy migrants dancing and singing on the Captain Morgan boats. They look like they’re having a ball. I got a video of an onboard party last night. This morning I saw a similar one on Lovin Malta with the accompanying comment: “the video being published today shows that life on board includes celebratory moments.”
That’s all right then.
Is Lovin Malta being unconsciously naive here or is it still giddy after the Floriana FC celebrations last night?
When was the video filmed? Are the migrants celebrating their rescue? Have they been told they’re going back on shore soon? Is it always party-time on the MV Atlantis?
These questions are legitimate considering how serious the government was about preventing Malta Today’s reporters from approaching the boats last weekend. Why is that? Is there a more recent truth that proximity would reveal?
That the government tries to manipulate us in such a crude fashion is something we have come to expect. But preferring to allow ourselves to be manipulated than having to go through the pain of imagining what it must be like to be trapped on an anchored boat for a month without an end date in sight amounts to collusion.
Frankly our duty is to assume the worst. If Alarmphone allege despair and misery on board the boats we should not rest until we see for ourselves that they’re wrong: that means going on the boats, speaking to the passengers and verifying the facts for ourselves. There is no way a 20 second video clip without context and without verification circulated unofficially over WhatsApp is in any shape or form an equivalent response that could cancel Alarmphone’s reports.
On 1 May on this website I told the story of the Theresienstadt concentration camp which the Nazis set up during the Second World War as a half way house for Jews before they were put on trains east. They put up playing fields for the children and lined the streets with flowers. And then they flew in the Red Cross to show off how well the Jews were being treated. Many smiling, happy children in those pictures.
I’m not saying Byron Camilleri is pushing the migrants overboard. But I am saying he’s keeping them in illegal detention without respecting their right to consider their asylum application.
People justify this in their heads because they say the migrants attempted to come to Malta “illegally”. That cannot be presumed before their status as asylum seekers is properly examined. Until then they are merely undocumented. The only people committing an illegality here are the people ordering their detention on a water-bound prison.
So Byron Camilleri is covering up an illegal treatment of people here by rubbing out its consequences. The cooperation of the migrants themselves can be arranged. After all they have cause to celebrate when they contrast their fates with the fates of people who left the same shore under the same conditions and are now on the ocean floor or back in a Tripoli concentration camp. And they have reason to celebrate for being picked up from their broken down dinghies rather than having an army boat sail right past them in the water with weapons aimed at their heads.
Anything is better than that. But it does not make it right.
If we want to justify in our minds the treatment of people we deem ineligible to human rights, the video Lovin Malta published will soothe our stinging conscience. Staying on a Captain Morgan boat out at sea for a month – scratch that, staying indefinitely – looks like a good time. Those migrants looked like they’ve just been awarded the Premier League by committee.
At this rate Byron Camilleri and Captain Morgan are going to start selling us tickets.