Migration – as old as humanity

This everlasting activity is now also reaching the shores of our small island in a more pronounced way, provoking some short-sighted individuals to believe that time can stand still and claim that some Maltese ethnicity is under threat.

Migration is as old as humanity. Human beings have been migrating since times immemorial, or – if you believe the Bible in a literal way – ever since Adam and Eve were thrown out of the garden of Eden! 

Some migrate in the hope of a better life, just as we Maltese used to do less than a century ago; others migrate in order to survive – or avoid – a war or because of the adverse poltical climate in their country. 

No doubt climate change also plays an important part. Humanity originated in Africa and got as far as China before it dared to go north into Europe, as Europe was engulfed in the ice age until relatively recently. The search for a more liveable habitat is endless.

This everlasting activity is now also reaching the shores of our small island in a more pronounced way, provoking some short-sighted individuals to believe that time can stand still and claim that some Maltese ethnicity is under threat. There is no pure Maltese DNA, of course. Scientific studies have shown that ours is a mixture of peoples from different areas of the world, reflecting our country’s incredible history. 

Migration made Malta and migration cannot be stopped. It is a natural process that reflects the geographical position of our small island state. Thinking that there is such a thing as a ‘pure’ Maltese ethnicity is simply xenophobic fantasy.

Arab historians write that Malta was uninhabited for a long time – not to mention the rather spectacular diversity of Maltese surnames that suggests that we originate from all over the Mediterranean rim and beyond. Clearly migration has lurched forward as soon as we joined the EU. Initially we took it in our stride: after all were had been used for a long time to thousands of soldiers and royal navy sailors living amongst us. And our own culture has Latin, Semitic, and Anglo-saxon undertones that makes us more flexible than others.

But as the years rolled by, they kept coming in increasing numbers. Some data that I have come across – and this is only an indication – suggests that there are now some 30,000 non-ethnic Maltese residents living and working in Malta. This is just below 10% of our native population and it is the main reason behind our registered population growth. 

The pioneers were the 3,000-odd British, remnants of the six-penny settlers of the 1960s and of our historic ties with the UK. They have recently been joined by young upstarts attracted by our rapidly expanding financial and gaming sectors. These two sectors and a full employment economy have also attracted sizeable communities of German, French and Scandinavian well to do youngsters who keep our rental market roaring. Of course, there are also the Russian emigrees who have come into money and are in search of a place where they can spend it. The list keeps growing.

One could trace a wave of immigrants from EU countries as these were hit by recent economic problems in their countries. I noticed a wave of Portuguese, followed by Spanish and, a massive wave of Italians who have made a valid and badly needed contribution to our catering sector. Others were badly needed in Malta for other reasons. These include the Filippino carers and the Pakistani nurses – though this cannot be said for the Rumanian pole-dancers, and the Bulgarian pickpockets. But there I go, falling into an injudicious trap: stereotyping different nationalities is so very wrong.

Non-Maltese residents keep our tourist sector competitive by working for as little as €4 per hour. Maltese waiters and waitresses have practically disappeared. African workers keep the construction industry going. Without them, construction costs would rocket to high heaven. And public cleansing has become the domain of the Somalis.

I am sure that immigration – particularly from cultures closer to ours – is definitely behind Malta’s recent remarkable economic performance. Migrants give a valid contribution to our economy. Most integrate with no undue difficulty, but this cannot be said of some immigrants who misbehave, and are so badly educated that they are simply unable to cope with a different culture. The Libyan community has come under increasing attention. No doubt, the majority are law abiding but some of them should have never been allowed to live in Malta. It is not quite right to blame them: as the recent visa scandal indicates, this problem has been – to a large extent – our own doing.

And how are we to live with all this? There is no easy answer; but for starters, we have to agree that migration is unstoppable, and it is likely to keep increasing. The recent events in Eastern Europe should be an eye-opener. 

The real issue is not to try to stop migration but how to manage it. Keeping numbers as low as possible is the best option as it will take us some time to digest what we have already taken in. The PM’s tacit agreement with the Italians – whatever is behind it – has saved the day as regards African immigrants crossing the Mediterranean from Libya.

We need to make stronger efforts to integrate those of them – mostly of sub-Saharan origin – who choose to stay. After all, they are a rather smaller proportion of all those who ended up in Malta by pure accident. We need to try to avoid non-Maltese ghettos in places like Bugibba and Marsa. And when this inevitably happens, these communities should be the target of an integration process, starting from the education of children.

Migration is here to stay, it is a part of the globalisation phenomenon now made easier by the recent tech and social media innovations of smart phones that spread the word of utopia like wild fire. Sometimes it can lead to permanent cultural changes like when the Turks abandoned their homeland in central Asia, or when the Goths burst the borders of the Roman Empire, or – for that matter – when the Mongols overrun China and burst into Europe from behind the Urals.

We need to keep well in mind that those who survive are not the strongest, or the most intelligent, but those who know how to adapt best to changing circumstances.

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