MaltaToday survey | The Great Siege syndrome: one in five thinks Malta is being ‘invaded’

Fear of ‘invasion’ and being ‘taken over’ emerges as top immigration concern of Maltese, strongest among Labour voters and respondents who lack a university education • Cultural fears, as well as humanitarian sensitivity stronger among PN voters and university-educated respondents

james
James Debono
12 August 2013, 12:00am
Lack of education and exposure to migrants appear to be correlated to the extent of a lack of sympathy towards asylum seekers and refugees.
Lack of education and exposure to migrants appear to be correlated to the extent of a lack of sympathy towards asylum seekers and refugees.


The educational and political divide • Majority agrees with pushbacks • Majority have no contact with migrants • Misconceptions about numbers • Lack of awareness on EU fundingFULL DATA
We asked: What is your greatest concern about migrants who arrive in Malta on boats?*%
They are invading/taking over Malta 20.6
They come in big/uncontrolled numbers 14.9
They bring disease/lack of hygiene 14
I am concerned about their safety 9.7
They are a financial burden** 9.7
They take Maltese jobs 9.1
Malta is too small 8.9
They have a different culture/religion 5.7
They increase the crime rate 5.1
Malta is overpopulated 4.6
Logistical problems in handling influx 2
Racism 1.1
Not all asylum seekers are genuine in their claims 1.1
They never leave 1.1
Cases of misbehaviour/ indiscipline 1.1
They could be terrorists 0.8
Not concerned at all 4.6
Other 5.1


*Total surpasses 100%, as some respondents mentioned more than one concern. Respondents were not presented with any options and were free to state whatever they wished.

**Financial burden included burden on resources and welfare and respondents who lamented their taxes being used to help migrants



A survey conducted by MaltaToday during the past week shows that the greatest concern the Maltese people have about migration by 'boat people' is the fear of being "invaded" or seeing their country "taken over" by migrants. This suggests a siege mentality in a fifth of the Maltese population, most of which lacks a university level of education and voted for the Labour Party in the last general elections.

The survey also shows that a majority of respondents (55%) support the pushback policy considered by the new Labour government in July, before it was stopped by the European Court of Human Rights, which had already ruled such a policy illegal when practised by Silvio Berlusconi's right-wing government in Italy. 

Support for pushbacks is particularly strong among Labour voters and those lacking a tertiary education.  But a majority of Nationalist voters and tertiary-educated voters reject this solution, which has been decreed illegal by the Council of Europe's European Court of Human Rights. The survey also shows that an overwhelming majority of those supporting pushbacks would reconsider their position if they were convinced that the lives of migrants deported to Libya would be in danger. But 15% of the population still agrees with pushbacks, even if sending migrants back to Libya puts their lives at risk. Libya is not bound by the Geneva Convention (responsible for regulating the status of asylum seekers).

Although the survey shows that the majority of respondents have a clear idea about the number of arrivals in the past months and years, 60% wrongly believe that the number of migrants arriving in the first seven months of the year exceeded arrivals in the same period in any year during the past decade. This suggests that the political drama over the past weeks has created the impression of a record number of arrivals, even though the number did not surpass arrivals in 2006, 2008 and 2011 and only slightly surpassed those in 2012.

Moreover, only a third of respondents thinks that the number of migrants still living in Malta amounts to between 3,000 and 6,000 - which is, in fact, the estimated number of migrants living in Malta. A substantial 27% believes that more than 12,000 migrants live in Malta. These misinformed respondents are more likely to support the pushbacks.

The survey also shows that the respondents are largely unaware that Malta has benefited from €100 million in EU funding related to migration. Only 17% are aware that Malta received more than €80 million in funds, while 24% think that Malta received less than €10 million.
The facts
• In the first seven months of the year, Malta received 1,294 migrants who came by boat after being rescued
• The highest number of migrants came to Malta in the first seven months of the years 2006, 2008 and 2011, not 2013
• Malta has received €100 million in funding related to migration from the European Union in the past 10 years
• Nearly 18,500 migrants have arrived in Malta in the past 10 years
• Census data shows that 2,676 people from sub-Saharan Africa live in Malta, but other estimates put the number of migrants from Africa at around 5,000


 

The educational and political divide

The survey suggests a wide political and educational divide when it comes to concerns about migration.

One striking aspect of the survey is that while the top concern of Nationalist voters is the safety of migrants, the top concern of Labour voters is the idea that the country is being invaded or taken over by migrants. 


Moreover, while 13% of PN voters are worried that migrants are of a different culture or religion, only 6% of Labour voters express this concern. This suggests that Labour voters are less concerned with cultural threats posed by different belief systems while being more worried about what they perceive as a threat to the nation's survival or integrity. This suggests two strands of nationalism: one which refers to culture and religion and another defined through direct reference to the nation state.

The same pattern emerges when respondents are broken down according to their highest level of schooling. Among respondents with a university level of education the major concern is that migrants have a different religion and culture. On the other hand, the main concern among all other educational groups is that migrants are "invading" or "taking over the country." Among those with a secondary level of education, the number of those who think so rises to 24%. 

While university-educated respondents tend to be suspicious of multiculturalism, they are also the most preoccupied by the welfare of migrants. In fact, among this category, a substantial 16% are concerned about their safety.  

The fear of losing jobs to migrants is highest among the least-educated respondents. This could be a reflection of the fact that migrants may represent competition for the unskilled segment of the working class.

The fear of migrants as a source of disease is surprisingly very strong among respondents with a tertiary education. Among respondents with a post-secondary level of education, this emerges as the top concern, alongside the fear of being invaded. On the other hand, concern about migration as a contributor to crime rates is low across the board.

A substantial chunk of the population is mainly concerned by the physical limits of Malta as a small country with a high population density. The perception that Malta is already too densely populated is highest among those with a university education. The Maltese are also preoccupied by the sheer number of immigrant arrivals, with 15% saying that their major worry is that immigrants are arriving in too-large or uncontrolled numbers.

Profile of the 15% of respondents who would still agree with pushbacks if lives of migrants were put at risk
  • 33% say that their major concern is that Malta is being invaded or being taken over
  • 76% have never talked to migrants, compared to 72% of all respondents
  • 52% believe that there are more than 12,000 migrants living in Malta
  • Only 4% are university educated, but 18% have a post-secondary education
  • 64% voted Labour in last election; only 8% voted PN


Majority agrees with pushbacks

Although a clear 55% majority favours pushbacks to Libya, despite the ruling by the European Court of Human Rights that Italy's pushbacks to Libya were illegal, the vast majority of those who agree would reconsider their position if the lives of these migrants were put in danger when they are returned to Libya.  This suggests that support for pushbacks is very qualified.




But an adamant 15% would still agree with pushbacks if the life of migrants were at risk. Significantly, 64% of hard-line respondents voted Labour in last general election and only 4% voted Nationalist.

The majority of tertiary-educated voters excluded pushbacks in principle. This suggests that Labour risks alienating the educated middle classes if it pursues such a policy. Support for pushbacks is particularly strong among Labour voters (70%) and voters with a primary level of education (63%), but is low among those with a university level of education (41%) and Nationalist voters (38%).

Majority have no contact with migrants

Only 28% of respondents have talked to migrants from Africa for more than five minutes at least once in their life. This suggest that a large segment of the population has no interaction whatsoever with the migrant community. This is ample proof of a lack of integration policies in Malta and the relative isolation of migrants, who are detained for months before their applications for asylum are processed. The survey suggests that people who have contact with migrants are less likely to support pushbacks. In fact support for pushbacks among this category falls from 55% to 49%. 

People who have contact with migrants also have different concerns. Among this category, concern about migrants' safety is four points higher than among the general population. This suggests that communication creates a degree of empathy. On the other hand, among this segment only 9% feel that Malta is being invaded. 

But this category is more sensitive to issues related to employment. This suggests that workers who work side-by-side with migrants may be more concerned with competition in the labour market. Closer contact also increases fear of disease. Moreover, this category is still concerned with the number of migrants reaching Malta.

Misconceptions about numbers

The survey suggests that the majority of respondents are well informed on the number of migrants arriving in Malta but wrongly think that a record number of migrants have arrived this year. In fact, 60% think that this is the case. University-educated respondents were the least likely to harbour such a perception. In reality, the number of migrants arriving in Malta in the first seven months was lower than the number of migrants arriving in the same period in 2008, 2011 and 2012. But the perception could have been fuelled by a record number of arrivals in July and by the political drama which saw Prime Minister Joseph Muscat considering pushbacks and refusing entry to the MT Salamis after it rescued 102 migrants.

But despite this wrong perception, 60% correctly put the number of migrants arriving in the first seven months at between 1,000 and 1,500. 46% also correctly put the number of migrants arriving in the past 10 years at between 12,000 and 24,000. 

But 23% have incorrectly put the number of migrants arriving in the past decade over the 18,000 mark.  On the other hand 31% incorrectly put numbers at less than 12,000. This suggests that the majority do not harbour an exaggerated perception about the number reaching Malta.

But while respondents show a degree of awareness on the actual number of arrivals, they are less aware about the actual number of migrants who still live in Malta, which is estimated at around 5,000. The reason for the discrepancy between arrivals and the number of migrants actually living here is attributed to the fact that many asylum seekers are issued with travel documents. Many of these tend to over stay in other countries and to disappear from the radar of migration officials. The survey shows that while 34% correctly put the number of sub Saharan migrants at between 3,000 and 6,000, 49% put the number of migrants above the 6,000 mark. A substantial 27% puts the number above an unrealistic 12,000.  

Not surprisingly, those who harbour this perception are more likely to favor extreme solutions like pushbacks. In fact, support for pushbacks among those who believe that there are more than 12,000 migrants living in Malta rises to 62%. On the other hand, among respondents who put the number of migrants at between 3,000 and 6,000, support for pushbacks drops to just 34%.

Lack of awareness on EU funding

The survey reveals that the Maltese, who often lament the EU's lack of solidarity towards Malta, are largely unaware that Malta received €100 million in funds related to migration in the past decade. Malta will also be receiving €80 million in similar funds in the period covered by the 2014-2020 budget. Although funding does not compensate for the lack of a solidarity mechanism and the burden put on countries like Malta by the Dublin II Treaty (which restricts the free movement of asylum seekers in Europe), the lack of knowledge about EU assistance in this sector could exacerbate anti-EU sentiment on this issue.

The survey shows that only 17% are aware that Malta received between  €80 and  €100 million in funds.  On the other hand, 24% think that Malta received less than  €10 million. A substantial 31% replied 'Don't know' when asked how much funding Malta received.

Methodology:

The survey was held between Monday 5 August and Thursday 8 August. A total of 704 respondents were contacted by telephone after their numbers were selected through systematic sampling. The survey was stopped when a quota of 400 completed questionnaires was reached. Respondents were not prompted with options when they were asked for their concerns on immigration. They were provided with options when asked questions about the number of migrants in Malta. The results were weighted to reflect the age and gender balance of population according to the latest demographic review issued by the National Office of Statistics. The survey has a margin of error of +/-4.9 points.
james
James Debono is MaltaToday's chief reporter on environment, planning and land use issues, ...