Malta’s spirit of compassion

Dr. Muhammad Bakr Ghbeis

Millions of refugees are at death’s door after last month’s devastating earthquakes in northwest Syria and Turkey. Malta is in a special position to help.

Malta can help because of its seat on the United Nations Security Council, through which it can push for more aid to Syria. To do that, Malta can provide what the world direly needs these days ‒ a nation that fights for what is right.  

For thousands of years, this special Mediterranean island has shown compassion to visitors. Tradition says Saint Paul was shipwrecked in Malta 2,000 years ago and took refuge in a cave. Fleeing political prosecution in Rome, Paul was an original refugee, who later said the Maltese showed him “great kindness” and helped him survive.

Despite centuries of invaders, this spirit has persisted, right to this century. Thousands of desperate migrants feeling trouble in North Africa say a Maltese sailor, fisherman or Armed Forces soldier extended a helping hand to pull them aboard and keep them alive.

This is why Malta’s current ambassador to the United Nations is so important. Vanessa Frazier is the first woman to hold this position for Malta. Her background on security issues appears strong, with experience serving as ambassador to NATO, in addition to advising a former Maltese prime minister on defence issues.

In that capacity, Frazier won praise for supporting Malta’s humanitarian response to the chaos unleashed after Libya’s 2011 revolution. Tough and compassionate, she urged Malta to protect defenceless Libyans when others would not.

While much of the world is suffering right now, millions of defenceless people in northwest Syria are among those who need Malta’s spirit and inspiration the most. Early February’s 7.8 magnitude earthquake and its aftershocks ‒ described as one of this century’s worst natural disasters ‒ killed almost 46,00 people in Turkey and more than 6,000 in Syria.

According to the United Nations, more than 8,700 are injured in Syria, a country already ruined by 12 years of brutal conflict imposed by President Bashar al-Assad’s war policies. Before the deadly quake, 15.3 million people, or 70 per cent of Syria’s population, needed some form of humanitarian assistance because of the conflict.

Malta’s ambassador to the UN has a chance to use her position to stand up to Bashar al-Assad and Vladimir Putin and help millions of Syrians

– Muhammad Bakr Ghbeis

Today, in the earthquake zone, four to five families are packed in tents, the risk of cholera is growing, food prices are skyrocketing and women and children face increased harassment.

According to UN humanitarian chief, Martin Griffiths, it is the worst earthquake in a century. This is where Malta can really help. While Assad does not run the region hardest hit by the quake, he still controls the main portions of the country and has been able to bend the UN Security Council to his evil will.  

Several days into the quake, Assad gave the UN access to only two border crossings for aid to enter from Turkey.

Critical time to save lives of those under the rubble was lost, adding to the list of atrocities committed by his regime.

Prior to the quake, Assad had also spent years stealing aid intended for those in need, “systematically diverting tens of millions a year”, according to the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, a leading Washington research centre.

Until 2024, Malta is a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council. Swayed by Moscow and Beijing’s influence, the council has failed the Syrian people for years, especially by ignoring the atrocities committed by Assad and Russian President Vladimir Putin against the people of Syria. It was in Syria that Putin perfected the tactics he would use in Ukraine.

I am a Syrian doctor living in the United States, advocating for refugees and promoting democracy in my country of birth. While I have never met Frazier, I have spent time advocating at the UN in New York City where she works every day.

As ambassador to the UN who sits on the Security Council when it convenes, Frazier has a chance to use her position to stand up to Assad and Putin and help millions of Syrians in need. We are confident that the spirit of Malta will inspire her sense of compassion and courage.

Dr Muhammad Bakr Ghbeis is a Syrian American and the president of Citizens for a Secure and Safe America, an NGO promoting democracy in Syria. He works as a cardiac critical care physician and instructor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School.