The first word I heard when visiting Block B in the detention centre for migrants at Safi was “Freedom”. Which, as Col Brian Gatt had informed us beforehand, is the first word any visitor hears as soon as he approaches the immigrants.

Though we didn’t visit the warehouses where the conditions are worse especially due to overcrowding, the inmates at Block B didn’t complain about the conditions they were kept in. Miles away from a one star hotel, but the atmosphere wasn’t tense. The relationship between the officers and the detainees also looked very positive, and it is clear that Col Gatt is looked at as both a person in authority as well as someone who deserves respect.

What struck me was their reaction to the amount of time they have to remain detained. I expected anger towards this aspect, and while there was a certain amount of anger, what was clear from what they said and their body language is a sense of awe. They simply couldn’t understand why they were being detained for so long (18 months).

I tried to be honest with the detainees as much as I could. I told them that we were a small political party and the only party in Malta that suggests a 6 month maximum detention period, rather than the irrational 18 months. While I promised we’ll keep on insisting on the more reasonable 6 month maximum, this wasn’t likely to change any time soon.

I also tried to explain the reason why. First of all that since they entered the country in an irregular manner they needed to be monitored. Quite reluctantly they understood this. But why for so long?

The truth is that up to a decade ago, one would barely see a black person in Malta. Unlike most other Western European countries most black people entered the country as asylum seekers, on boats, sometimes in large numbers. This created a sense of shock, not necessarily racism but while we have our fair share of racists, it was more a question of fearing what was new, things we hadn’t been exposed to before – in this case, seeing a substantial amount of black people in Malta

I tried to explain that it is this was caused automatic and long term detention. That the hysteria that was felt in the country in 2002 has decreased a lot since Maltese people now meet immigrants on a day to day basis and know them personally. Also, that detention gives the Maltese people a sense of safety that what is yet “unknown” is being closely monitored.

Some understood, others didn’t. “No one was a afraid when we saw the first white people in Nigeria”, one immigrant told me.

That is what I told them. Unfortunately, there is more.

I didn’t tell them that since 2002, Malta has seen the birth of two extreme right movement, who aside to the lunatic ramblings, also decided to contest elections (one of them Alleanza Nazzjonali has by now closed shop, the other, Imperium Evropa has actually went further extreme and intends to finish what Hitler didn’t).

In order not to cause any agitation I refrained from telling them that the only reason they were being detained for so long is that both government and opposition lack balls and are afraid that they lose some votes to the remaining extreme right party if they dare rock the boat.

That their real fear is not that black people let loose will become werewolves, but that a hallucinating neo-Nazi gathers his few, but fanatically loyal followers, tell them that the blacks were let loose to rape their women and eat their babies – and then, contest elections.

What I did tell them is that what we, the Greens are asking for is not abolishing the monitoring of people who enter Malta in an irregular manner. I explained that some time in detention (maximum 6 months) is necessary. That the monitoring should go on after the immigrant is released through regular signing at police stations and mandatory health checks.

What we are proposing is nothing more than common sense, humane and cost efficient. The only reason these people are being detained for so long is that both government and opposition lack balls.

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The year 1999 will definitely not be forgotten by the five Bulgarian nurses and Palestinian doctor wrongly accused on one of the most heinous crimes possible – deliberately infecting over 400 Libyan children with HIV. The evidence of their innocence is surmounting, from the clearly visible effects of torture they underwent in the Libyan prisons while they signed their “confessions”, to the witness of International scientists that said clearly the virus must have been present at least a year before the accused started working in the Hospital.

1999 was just the beginning of these six people’s nightmare. In 2004, the medics were sentenced to death. The nightmare ended in 2007 after the Bulgarian government forked out millions of dollars in compensation for each infected child to the Libyan authorities. The medics were declared as innocent within less than 45 minutes they set foot on Bulgarian territory.

Why did this frame up take place? The most probable reason is that these medics were used as a scapegoat to cover up the lack of hi-gene and professionalism in Libyan hospitals, the real reason why the virus had spread.

Dictator Gaddafi and his regime literally had the cake and are it. Not only did they cover up their mess (in front of the people of Libya with the controlled media, not the International community), but used it as an opportunity to extort millions of dollars from the Bulgarian government (with the help of some other countries).

Do I blame the Bulgarian government for giving up to this extortion? Hardly so. Just like a father whose child had been kidnapped forking out the money was the only way to save five nationals and another innocent human being from death.

Obviously this was a victory for the Libyan regime. In fact they learnt the lesson – extortion pays big time – and are doing it again, this time in different circumstances. During a visit to Italy, Colonel Gaddafi made a controversial speech scaring European with millions of ‘poor and ignorant’ Africans invading it, unless it does something. That something is once again extortion. Give me €500 a year to protect my borders, he asked the EU and I’ll ‘protect’ you from the Barbaric invasion.

Anyone with some common sense would not fall into this trap. Unlike the Bulgarian government, if the EU forked money to the Dictator, this time it would not take place to uphold the life of country nationals, but to deny the rights of non-Libyan Africans refugees to seek asylum. One should also include the fact that considering the extreme corruption that takes place in Libyan institutions many people will still ‘leak in’ if they have some cash.

By the time of writing EU officials have shunned these proposals or at least have been non-committed. Except for one country’s foreign minister. Our own Dr Tonio Borg, has told us it takes two to tango. In other words that we should appease Colonel Gaddafi and fork out the extortion money.

While writing this, it still hasn’t completely sunk in that apart from the disrespect for human rights, Dr Borg is putting Malta’s position towards Libya like that of a small Sicilian restaurant owner in front of a Mafia Don.

Thanks, but no thanks Dr Borg.

My blood is boiling. The Palestinian issue is much at heart. However, the outrageous words the Israeli Ambassador for Malta said, also offend me personally, as a Maltese citizen.

Israel did not just steal most of the Palestinian land. With the excuse of terrorism it also controls the little that it left for the Palestinian people. In the little spit the Palestinians have, Israel has created a buffer zone, to protect itself. This so called ‘conflict zone’ is in an area where Palestinian tend their fields. Needless to say, the Palestinians are angry. So are those who support their cause.

As an activist, a human being who hates injustice, Maltese national Bianca Zammit, apart from voluntary work with the Palestinian people, decided to attend a peacful protest inside this so called ‘conflict zone’. During this protest, she was shot at by an Israeli sniper. How could this be justified?

However, Mr Gideon Meir, Israeli ambassador for Malta wants to justify the unjustifiable. He skips every limit by claiming that Bianca was ‘sent by Hamas’. What? Does this man expect us to believe such a lie?

Mr Meir is doing a big mistake. He seems to be forgetting that he is in Malta not the USA. Quite a difference isn’t it? Among other differences between Malta and the US is that fortunately our media is not controlled by ultra-rich Zionist lobby groups. Mr Meir is overseeing this difference. He also seems to be overseeing the fact that we the Maltese people have a brain, and most of us even use it.

There is a question I would like to ask Mr Meir.

Were is the buffer zone? Do you honestly expect the Palestinians and other people remain silent to this? Silent to the extent of not organising a peaceful protest in that zone? Or as Bianca herself said, to ‘hold Palestinian flags in Palestinian land’? Do you really want us to believe that such a thing is an act of terror?

I’ve never said this about a foreigner in Malta, but this time I have too. I’m too angry. “Please leave my country Mr Meir. Your presence is an insult.”

Already four years have passed since six arson attacks on people or organisations that opposed racism took place in a period of a couple of months. Doors and cars were torched, molotovs were thrown into people’s houses in a clear pattern. The victims had all spoke about, or published, material condemning racism in Malta.

No one has been brought too justice yet. This is scary in itself. It can indicate that the police have not done their job well enough. Or worse still, that the perpetrators are professionals. It isn’t that easy to repeat a crime six times in a few months and escape from justice.

These crimes were extremly serious. Unlike arson attacks which are a result of simple vandalism (which are already serious in themselves), these were done to cause fear on the victims. Probably the goal was that everyone opposing the perpetrators’ racist ideas shuts his mouth up. Luckily that goal wasn’t reached.

My fear is that people, the common law abiding citizens, do not realise how serious this crime because of their fears of migrants from Africa. Some may think the arsonists ‘have a point’ even if they disapprove on the methods they used.

I do not blame anyone who is worried about irregular migration. However I do want to send a message to these people. The mixing of cultures can cause problems, especially in a small island where its people are not used to it. However, no matter what these problems are, these are insignificant compared to, not only this explicit racism, but also the undemocratic harassment of people.

The simple idea of having people not expressing their views because they fear for their health and that of their families should be immediately discarded if we want to enjoy the liberties we already have.

A few years ago, a man escaped from prison with only one goal in mind: to kill another person, knowing that this would make him a murderer apart from thief, and that most likely he would never get out of prison in alive. However, the killing did not only make him a murderer. It also a made him a hero in the community, because the victim was not only hated in the neighborhood, but worse still – feared. He was a usurer and used to keep the prison escapee’s mother, along with a number of other people in the community, in constant terror.

A few days ago, another well known usurer was murdered. By the time of writing, it is still not sure whether the murder is related to usury. What is sure is that there are a number of people in his community that consider the murderer as God sent.

Having said that, I must say like I did many times before that I am against any kind of vigilantism (taking the law in your hands). Whatever the reasons, these situations are cases of murder and should be punished (though I do expect a more lenient sentence if the man you killed had been terrifying you or your family). However, vigilantism should not only be stopped by punishment but also by justice. Usury is still not considered as a severe crime, and sometimes it is even punished with just a suspended sentence. This is mostly due to the fact that in many situations while the illegal lending of money could be proven without reasonable doubt, the threats and violence couldn’t.

Thus the laws on the illegal lending of money should be stepped up. Even if there are no threats and violence or can’t be proven.

Contrary to the way the law is, I believe that usury should be considered as a more serious crime than drug trafficking. A drug dealer is selling a deadly substance. A substance that will get, or keep a person hooked up on it possibly for life. It will probably make his life a living hell, and eventually kill him. However, unlike the victim of usury, the drug addict still has a choice. As hard as it is he can still have his life back by rehabilitating himself, and the drug dealer can do nothing to stop this. The victim of usury usually has no more say in his life. If the victim had been a drug addict or a gambler, no amount of rehab and therapy will stop the usurer from getting his money back, with the astronomic interests.

Victims of usury have very limited options, all of them negative to themselves as well as to the rest of society. Basically these are: engaging in criminal activity to get the money, suicide, murdering their oppressor or fleeing the country.

I’ve worked with victims of usury, and would like to end this article with a chilling account one young mother told me:

“When pay time is approaching, I see him there daily. From 6.00 a.m his car will be parked in front of my house and he watches, just watches and makes his presence felt. When I go out with Jamie he just gazes at him. He’s just 3 years old, but realises that the man is watching him. I tell him he is a crazy man but is harmless, he just looks at people and does nothing. Which is true mind you, he just looks. However that’s because I pay him a hefty sum each month. I’ve already paid him three times as much the original sum he has lent me.”

We see many issues in the daily news which are of no much relevance, storm in teacups. Yet we rarely hear about usury. Unfortunately this is not because it doesn’t exist. It exists and how. It’s just because the victims are afraid to speak up. They know the law will not protect them. And when they get hit by a car or thrown off a bridge, media wise, it is just another unfortunate accident or a suicide