Emotions of fear and loathing vis-à-vis illegal immigration were unleashed last night as hundreds marched through Valletta’s Republic Street to protest against the “silent invasion”.
Such feelings jarred with the message of solidarity and anti-racism stressed by Philip Beattie, the national secretary of the Alleanza Nazzjonali Repubblikana—Republican National Alliance, a newly formed pressure group which organised the demonstration.
Throughout the march, Mr Beattie repeatedly stressed ANR’s “sincere appeal against racial hatred”. Once the demonstration was over and the crowd dispersed, many swarmed around Norman Lowell, leader of the far right movement Imperium Europa, who is facing charges of inciting racial hatred.
The issue of irregular immigration has long been a heated topic of discussion as Malta continues to get boatloads of migrants and the ANR wanted to tap into people’s emotions and insist on the need for repatriation.
Trouble brewed minutes after the crowd started moving from City Gate towards the Great Siege monument and encountered a small group atop the ruins of the Royal Opera House silently holding banners against racism.
The crowd booed, jeered and swore at Fr Mark Montebello, who held a poster questioning whether the demonstration conformed to Christian values. A Graffiti Movement banner proclaiming that The Real Threat Is Racism also provoked the crowd’s wrath.
In an attempt to keep the peace, the police forced Graffiti to put down their banner and insisted with Fr Montebello to move away. However, when he resisted, a few men broke away from the crowd to force the priest away and one of them managed to push him off the base of a stone column on which he was sitting.
The Graffitti members and Fr Montebello insisted they had a right to take a stand in the light of an “immoral” demonstration that “attacked the sacred values of society”.
The police soon brought the situation under control and the crowd moved on to listen to ANR’s first public message, which attracted attention from foreign media.
Mr Beattie did not mince words and warned the crowd to steer away from violence, which would “give our opponents an excuse to hit at us”.
“I do not want to see any violence, even if you are provoked. Do not add to the policemen’s troubles, they already have their hands full,” he said.
“We cannot be split over a national issue which is of concern to all of us Maltese,” he said as the crowd waved Maltese flags and placards with messages such as We Don’t Want a Multicultural Society, Let’s Defend our Country and Solidarity with Our Police and Army.
“We appeal to all those against us not to call us racist. We are proud to be Maltese and we just don’t want to become the toilet of the Mediterranean,” he said to a deafening applause. He insisted that ANR was inspired by Catholic values and its motto reflected Maltese roots: faith, nationhood and family.
He explained that ANR believed that genuine asylum seekers deserved protection but it was extremely concerned with the influx of economic refugees who were not persecuted but merely wanted to improve their way of life.
“We cannot afford to accept this influx, we have to focus on repatriation. Malta is too small to deal with such a huge number of immigrants—this is not ideological talk but common sense. Our resources are being stretched as detention centres are bursting at the seams,” he said.
“We should not hate the immigrants and any talk of extremism does nobody any good. This is not an issue of race, it’s just a worrying situation we all have to recognise.”
While accepting that the government had made strides in addressing the issue, he felt more should be done and Mr Beattie appealed to Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi and Opposition Leader Alfred Sant to unite on this issue and work together at an international level to give the Maltese peace of mind.
Mr Beattie questioned why Libya, which had long been proclaimed a friend of Malta, had so far done nothing to step up its efforts to patrol the coast to control the influx of immigrants leaving for Europe.
He firmly said Malta did not require rice from the EU but financial help to tackle this growing problem.
In the coming weeks ANR will continue working on safeguarding the rights of the Maltese and planned to organise similar marches in the future. Mr Beattie told the crowd to spread the word that ANR had impeccable credentials and was not a racist group. When the demonstration ended the spotlight turned on Mr Lowell who expressed his satisfaction at the turnout and said that the more the right wing spectrum broadened the better.
Moviment Graffitti said after the demonstration it was concerned about the spread of racism and xenophobia.
Everything was done by the organisers of the demonstration to appear moderate with no intention of spreading racist and xenophobic ideas, the movement said.
The distinction being made between illegal immigrants and refugees did not make sense. Although the alliance is stating that it is against illegal immigrants, and not refugees, in reality whoever is a refugee had no other alternative route of entering Malta.
Many immigrants hail from places known to be ruled by dictators or where there is violent conflict that leaves thousands of people dead each year.
The illegal immigration issue has been blown out of all proportion. So much so that the country is in a state of panic and becoming more xenophobic.
Demonstrations like yesterday’s are only fuelling the fire, Graffitti added.
The people have their say
The following are just a few of the comments by people who gathered outside City Gate before the demonstration organised by the Alleanza Nazzjonali Repubblikana.
Marco Desira, 30: “I’m here to protect my future. Repatriation is the immediate solution. The influx of illegal immigrants has reached such drastic proportions that in this case international obligations should no longer be regarded”.
Maria Borg, 56: “I’m here to safeguard the future of my children. The illegal immigrants are invading Malta and the island will no longer be ours at this rate. I hate them and I feel scared of them. I don’t like having them around”.
Rita Spiteri, 25: “I don’t like travelling on the same bus with these people. Apart from the fact that they have more rights than I do—at my place of work there are two of them who have a full-time job while I am constrained to work part-time against my wish. These people are egoistic and they are carrying diseases into our country”.
Marcelle and John Tabone from Birzebbuga: “What bothers us is that if we need to go to hospital we have to wait in the queue but illegal immigrants are whisked right through. We also get angry when we see pregnant women—they have a culture of having a lot of children but we have to educate them and stop them doing so while here; give them contraceptives if necessary. If we have to get them in, feed them and send them back home. Malta is too small to keep them here”.
Liam Gauci, 18: “We’re here to protest against illegal immigration. We’re prepared to accept and help a limited number who are really persecuted for a limited period of time but we cannot keep those coming for economic gains. Plus any notion of giving these people citizenship is unacceptable”.