How unfamiliarity breeds contempt on migration and integration

Ignorance of numbers, lack of education and lack of human contact increases hostility to immigration among sections of the Maltese population

Most Maltese have a good idea of the number of foreigners living in Malta and only a minority tends to believe in exaggerated numbers.
Most Maltese have a good idea of the number of foreigners living in Malta and only a minority tends to believe in exaggerated numbers.

Ignorance on numbers and not being in contact with foreigners living in Malta contribute to opposition towards integration, a survey conducted among 1,000 people shows.

MediaToday conducted the survey commissioned by the Ministry for Social Dialogue and Civil Rights  as part of the Mind d Gap: Together we can make a difference – public consultation.

While 57% of those who know more than one foreign national by name think that the government should implement an integration policy, the percentage declines slightly to 56% among those who know only one foreign national by name, and sharply to 40% among those who do not know any foreign national by name.

Moreover those who think that there are more foreigners living in Malta than there actually are, are also more hostile to integration than those who know the numbers.

While 51% of those who think there are fewer than 30,000 foreign nationals living in Malta agree with the government implementing integration, only 45% of those who think that there are more than 30,000 foreigners living here agree.

The lowest level of support for integration is found among those who think that more than 18,000 people who entered Malta irregularly are still living here.

Among this category only 38% agree with an integration policy being implemented, while 49% are opposed.

The survey showed that only a slight majority (52%) knew what integration means.  But when respondents were given a definition of integration “as a process of dialogue to help foreign communities participate and contribute to Maltese society”, a relative majority agreed that the government should make an effort to implement this policy, with a relative majority of 48.6% replying Yes. But while only 27.4% replied No, a substantial 13.4% replied Depends, while 10.6% were not sure.

Respondents who disagree with the government encouraging integration are most likely to oppose it because of the island’s small size and a perception that there are already too many foreigners.

But others are motivated by more irrational fears, such as that of foreigners taking over the country or supplanting the local population.

Knowing the others

A majority of respondents in the survey have contact with foreigners living in Malta although a sizeable minority, which includes a large segment of women and older respondents, have less contact.

56% of respondents know a foreign Maltese resident by name. This indicates a degree of familiarity between respondents and foreigners living in Malta.

The percentage rises to 66% among males aged under 35 years of age and to 76% among persons with a university education. But the percentage falls to 37.2 among females aged over 55 years and to 37 among pensioners.

The vast majority of foreigners whom respondents know by name are from the European Union and the rest of Europe.

49% of the population know someone from the rest of the continent by name. This can be partly attributed to greater numbers, easier communication and lack of cultural differences.

Still, contact with foreigners from outside Europe does take place to an extent that more than 10% know someone from sub-Saharan Africa and North Africa by name.

A significant number (more than five per cent) know people from the Middle East and the Far East (particularly the Philippines). Work, entertainment venues and educational/training institutions are the locus of most interaction with foreigners.

Getting the right numbers

The survey shows that most respondents (58%) put the number of foreigners living here in the 10,000 to 30,000 range. 34% put the number at between 10,000 and 20,000, and 13% at more than 30,000. 16% replied don’t know. The latest census (2011) puts the number of non-Maltese living in Malta at 20,289.

This suggests that most Maltese have a good idea of the number of foreigners living in Malta and only a minority tends to believe in exaggerated numbers.

Respondents were asked how many people who entered Malta irregularly still live in the country. The survey shows that one fourth put the number at greater than 12,000 while 7% put the number over 18,000. But the vast majority (56%) put the number at between 3,000 and 12,000.

Perceptions on foreigners living in Malta

The survey suggests that migrants are viewed both positively for performing jobs which are no longer done by Maltese workers but are also blamed for competing for jobs.

Very few respondents value foreigners for their cultural input or for increasing diversity while a larger number value foreigners for their economic contribution, spending power and for buying properties.

When asked on what worries them most about foreigners living in Malta, most respondents referred to competition for jobs, Malta’s limited size and the number of foreigners. Concern on religious extremism also emerges as a top concern, particularly among those in the management, administrative and professionals sectors, and university educated respondents. Only a small minority expressed concern on xenophobia and racism.

Neither did respondents express any noticeable concern on the presence of more affluent migrants who may have a greater impact on local resources like land, property values and processes like gentrification.