Youth exchange organised by FYEG in Melilla, a Spanish enclave in the North of Africa. A delegation of four Maltese Young Greens -including myself- attended the seminar on human rights and migration.
February 2006: An idea is born
Debriefing meeting with Natalie Debono, (International Secretary). When talking about the experiences in Melilla when suddenly “Err… guys, we should do a follow up of the exchange…multiplier effect and all that”. An idea was born. We worked on it over a couple of meetings and a lot of coffees and Tunisian peach tea until we fine tuned it to this…Fiona the (French) stagiaire who has been studying immigration during a placement with the (Maltese) Greens would present the study she has been working on for the past six months, a case study entitled “At the Gate of Fortress Europe: Irregular Immigration and Malta”, and this talk would be preceded by an audiovisual experience related to “Fortress Europe” staged by the Young Greens (Carla Farrugia, Andrew Christie and Natalie Debono). This was indeed a brilliant idea.
21st March 2006: The Big Day
Today’s the “big day”. Let me describe the set-up. In the hall of the University of Malta, a masked guard is barking orders at the crowd who came to listen to the talk. Unexpectedly, the audience is hecked by two other masked guards, and are waiting to cross a symbolic barbed- wire “border”, to enter the room of the conference. While they wait at the border, a slideshow on the theme “Fortress Europe” is displayed… pictures of gates, fences, and people coming in or being sent out of European countries, alternatively Spain and Malta are shown. Still under a state of shock, participants are asked to fill in “preliminary questionnaires”, identical as the ones that asylum seekers must answer when they reach Maltese shores after leaving Libya by boat. I let you imagine the face of representatives of political parties and embassies when asked about their “belonging to any armed group”, or their assigned “race” and whether or not their identification papers are genuine!
After the border-checking session, the audience of around 150 people listened to Fiona’s presentation. The presentation highlighted the main findings of her report “At the Gate of Fortress Europe: Irregular Immigration and Malta”. This comprehensive study, the first ever published on this issue in Malta, deals with all the aspects of the issue, that is to say the causes of migration, the daily life of immigrants in Malta, the aftermath of immigration on the local population and the solutions proposed to ease the tensions in Malta. The one hour-talk was massively applauded by the members of the civil society, representatives of NGOs and political parties and the students present… the only exception was the leader of the “National Republican Alliance” of Malta, a local anti-immigration movement, who was disappointed when Fiona classified his ideas as “xenophobic” and he left the room with the words hanging in the air ’Go To Hell’ banging the door after him! Apart from this, the event, attended by many local public figures, as well as journalists from local TV stations and newspapers, was a huge success.
In a nutshell, the follow- up of FYEG Melilla’s seminar in Malta was a rich blend of experiences, on the one hand the audiovisual animation which draw a parallel between two gates of Fortress Europe, big Spain and tiny Malta, and on the other hand, an in-dept account of the irregular immigration situation at the local level. Quite an accomplishment I must say.