118 people were about to drown. 5 of them were children. 1 a new-born baby. The Armed Forces of Malta were dispatched to rescue them. They were saved from certain death and brought ashore.

And the only emotion Security Minister Byron Camilleri could express in a video he posted was anger. It’s not just the sullen look, the deep burrows on his frown and the jingoistic tone that show this. He said so himself in so many words in his attempt to express empathy: “I am angry,” he said.

He could have expressed pride in the soldiers who saved so many lives, all in a day’s work. He could have expressed sympathy for the children, women and men who bobbed in our waters face to face with death. He could have let his people into welcoming the suffering and the needy, but instead he spoke of anger.

The government brought itself to a place where it can no longer betray any human sympathy under the stern mask it wears. Byron Camilleri in that film reminded me of Martin Dysart’s dream from Peter Shaffer’s Equus. The psychiatrist dreams he’s some high priest in a South American ancient cult whose job it is to manage the human sacrifices. He’s wearing a mask and under it his face is green with disgust at his own bloody actions, pulling out hearts from living bodies and casting them into the fire.

As happens in dreams, his mask falls off revealing his sick and horrified face, letting the other priests know he is not enjoying his work. His true humanity is revealed, his religion is betrayed and the other priests remove him.

We’ve reached the point when our security minister cannot publicly acknowledge the human sacrifice of the people he saved from drowning. He should be delighted they’re alive, proud he’s played a part in their survival. And yet he has to look dismayed they have arrived and express regret he doesn’t have a boat to keep them offshore for good.

It’s all so very sad. Notice how after all the gung-ho belligerence of Robert Abela from last March, the prime minister was not making yesterday’s statement. As with Chris Fearne and delivering news about covid, Robert Abela only speaks about migration when he’s there to record what he considers a “success”.

Last April people were drowning in our waters and Robert Abela gave press conferences to proudly announce how on his command the Armed Forces allowed people to drown, or dragged them back to Libya or pushed them on to Sicily. None of those were “legal” options but that didn’t matter for Robert Abela because it got him applause. But Robert Abela knows he survived a criminal inquiry by the skin of his teeth and his loyal tooth brush Magistrate Joe Mifsud. It is not something he could do again.

So, these 118 were not allowed to drown. They weren’t taken to Libya. They weren’t pushed on to Sicily. As Byron Camilleri said, “there was no choice”. Robert Abela stayed in hiding and threw Byron Camilleri to the racist dogs trained by our prime minister to snap their jaws at the sight of black people.

118 people have been saved but the minister announcing this, presented it as some catastrophic news. These people are getting no welcome. No warm fire for them. Only the poisonous snakes of prejudice and hatred. Byron Camilleri would have spoken differently if 1 white person was rescued in our waters. He would have been proud of our army and instead of addressing the nation as if he was declaring some war, he would have dragged the press to a photo op in hospital with a big bunch of flowers.

These 118 arrivals though, are 118 pieces of bad news. Something to be angry about 118 times over.

Byron Camilleri assures his “angry” audience he’ll continue to work to prevent the needs of these rescues in future. He says immigration is a complex “problem” that won’t just go away. Not if he keeps that mask of hatred on, it won’t.

Or am I kidding myself? What is under that stern mask of prejudice? More prejudice?