Do you remember when Malta refused to welcome refugees in August (2013)? Hundreds of immigrants who were seeking for help offshore, coming from war-torn countries, poverty and precarious living conditions with no human and/or civil rights. Then Italy took the ‘burden’, as many politicians addressed to the issue, and hosted them; 600 immigrants only on 15 August between Sicily and Calabria (South of Italy).
The small European country is looking at alternative ways for investments to make its economy flourish. Wealthy people bring cash and prosperity, thus Malta decided to welcome only those who can afford the high price to be part of the Maltese family. It decided to sell EU passports for 650,000 euro (US$875,000) as part of a law previously passed that comes with the benefits of EU membership, including the right to reside and work in the 28-member bloc.
The goal of the country is indeed to attract “high value” citizens, as Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said, that can bring benefits to the island by investing and working there. He estimated that 45 potential applicants would raise the country around 30 million euro. Henley and Partners, the global leader in residence and citizenship planning, will be in charge of the bureaucratic process and estimated that the deal will attract up to 300 people annually. Those who purchase passports can then buy citizenship for their immediate family for just 25,000 euro ($33,600).
European Union spokesman Michele Cercone said that Malta and other member states have the freedom to choose how and to whom they issue passports. However, the European Commission also states that asylum has to be granted to people fleeing persecution or serious harm in their own country and therefore in need of international protection; this rule is not always applied though. Asylum is a fundamental right; granting it is an international obligation, first recognized in the 1951 Geneva Convention on the protection of Refugees (EC). A EU country cannot refuse refugees that come from war countries or from places where human rights have been drastically violated, but they have also the power to issue passports to whoever they want and thus making distinctions between wealthy and less wealthy.
This is not a new procedure, other EU countries have been relaxing citizenship and residency rules for steep fees. Cyprus, for example, eased citizenship rules for those who lost more than $3.2 million by paying the levy on savings, in an attempt to stop non-resident investors from leaving the country. In the UK, residency permits are easier to obtain for non-EU citizens who have at least $1.6 million available for private investment in the UK. Meanwhile, Spain is planning on granting foreigners residency permits if they purchase a house for more than $215,000, in an attempt to boost the country’s housing sector (data from RT).
The only country who embraced an ‘open-door’ policy with Syrian refugees, who are experiencing one of the worst periods of bloodshed in modern history, was Sweden. The Scandinavian country decided in early September 2013 to give asylum to all Syrian refugees who apply. The decision, said Anders Danielsson, director-general of Sweden’s Migration Board, “stems from the EU’s failure to act on growing numbers of refugees” and was made “because we believe the violence in Syria will not end in the near future.”
In countries like Spain and Greece, where the economic crisis continues to hit hard and unemployment is on the rise, governments fear that helping Syrian refugees may be met with resentment by the local populations. Other states like France and the Netherlands — as well as Greece — are experiencing growing nationalism and xenophobia inflamed by ultra-right movements, and the authorities are all too aware of the sensitivity to bringing in more foreign nationals. Germany during the elections period tried to avoid the sensitive issue of refugees.
EU is failing to agree on a joint European policy on asylum and the national approach, and interest, always prevails. As Céline Bayer, spokesperson for the president of the S&D group in the EP, pointed out though: “A common EU policy would probably be more progressive, more generous than any of the 28 individual policies. And they know that.”
It seems like many EU countries didn’t waste time to apply laws for their own benefit. Fair enough; but don’t play the card of nationalism and national pride that spurs xenophobic policies, when you deny asylum to those who are really in need – as in the case of Syrians – and meanwhile you decide to give away passports or residency permits only on the basis of economic criteria, regardless of the candidate’s nationality. Come on.