Population data shows how diverse Maltese towns and villages are

A growing number of foreigners taking up residence in towns and villages across Malta is contributing to a more diverse country but also creating new challenges for community leaders, KURT SANSONE reports

St Paul’s Bay was described as the “most complex” locality in a 2012 study that looked at the seaside town’s changing social fabric.

The study that formed part of former Nationalist MP Censu Galea’s MA thesis highlighted the locality’s rapid expansion driven by a growing number of foreigners living there.

But if St Paul’s Bay was a complex locality then, it is even more now. Population estimates released by the National Statistics Office last week showed that 37% of people living in St Paul’s Bay by the end of 2016 were foreigners.

The locality’s population was estimated at 23,112, making it the largest town in Malta, surpassing Birkirkara that held that title for many years. Of those living in St Paul’s Bay, 8,515 were foreign nationals – this is equivalent to the whole population of Siggiewi.

But the seaside locality is not alone to experience an influx of foreign residents. The smaller localities of Gzira and Msida came just after St Paul’s Bay with 35% of residents living there being foreigners. In Sliema, the 6,688 foreigners living there made up 34% of the locality’s population.

All seven localities along the northern harbour coastline, starting from Pieta all the way to Swieqi, make the top 10 localities with the highest density of foreigners.

By the end of 2016 it was estimated that 54,321 foreigners lived in Malta, making up 12% of the population

St Paul’s Bay and Mellieha are the two localities in the north that make the top 10 list, while Birzebbuga is the only southern locality to feature among the top with foreigners making up 32% of its population.

The NSO figures show that by the end of 2016 it was estimated that 54,321 foreigners lived in Malta, making up 12% of the population.

Over the past five years the number of foreigners moving to Malta has grown exponentially in line with an expanding economy that has been clamouring for more labour.

This has brought with it several challenges at local level, especially in towns where the density of foreigners is the highest.

A corporate event for a gaming firm in Malta. The industry employs many foreigners. Photo: Ambassador Events/Facebook
A corporate event for a gaming firm in Malta. The industry employs many foreigners. Photo: Ambassador Events/Facebook

Gzira mayor Conrad Borg Manche told MaltaToday the influx of foreigners is a very recent phenomenon in his locality.

With an estimated population of 9,806, Gzira had 3,440 foreigners living there at the end of 2016, according to the NSO.

Borg Manche said the council was trying to find ways and means of including foreign residents in the community but this was not an easy task.

“The main problem in Gzira, which may not be the same for other localities, is that the foreigners who live here are not a static community because there is a lot of mobility,” he said. This makes it hard to foster a sense of community.

There are 130 development sites in Gzira and all are for apartment blocks, which will most probably be rented out Gzira mayor Conrad Borg Manche

Borg Manche said this turnover among foreigners created particular problems that impacted the rest of the community.

“At a very basic level you get people taking out garbage bags at inappropriate times because they do not know the locality rules and by the time somebody draws their attention to the matter, they would have probably left,” Borg Manche said.

But language could also be another barrier for foreigners who do not speak English or have a poor understanding of it.

Gzira is home to a lot of foreigners working for gaming companies, most of which operate in neighbouring Sliema and St Julian’s. But it is also home to others who work in the construction sector.

A construction boom and law enforcement

The statistics released by the NSO are a year old and the mayor anticipates the situation will only get more intense over the coming years.

“There are 130 development sites in Gzira and all are for apartment blocks, which will most probably be rented out,” Borg Manche said.

The dual challenges of a construction boom – driven by the demand from foreigners – with all its detrimental impact on residents and a rapidly growing community of people unwilling to plant roots in the locality, is also creating a problem of enforcement.

Off to work: towns like Marsa, which host an open centre for migrants and asylum seekers, are usually first choice for migrant workers to settle down. Although community leaders report problems of anti-social behaviour, criminality is not necessarily linked to foreigners
Off to work: towns like Marsa, which host an open centre for migrants and asylum seekers, are usually first choice for migrant workers to settle down. Although community leaders report problems of anti-social behaviour, criminality is not necessarily linked to foreigners

In a court judgment last week, magistrate Joe Mifsud felt the need to underscore his concern on the number of crimes being perpetrated by foreigners. He was sentencing a 37-year old Somali man who lives in Xewkija, jailing him for two years after being found guilty of grievously injuring two other Somalis in a stabbing incident.

“The Court notes that the overwhelming majority of foreigners in this country are peaceful and law-abiding. The Court expresses concern on the increasing number of crimes being committed by a small number of foreigners. Such a situation is intolerable,” Mifsud said.

His statement follows the concern expressed by the Marsa council last December over anti-social behaviour migrants living there were engaging in.

While criminality in both Gzira and Marsa has its own genesis that is not necessarily linked to foreigners – both localities have historically been linked to prostitution and associated crimes – changing social realities require a better understanding of new enforcement requirements.

Borg Manche said enforcement at all levels had to improve. “The economy is growing, the population is growing, the number of visitors is growing and at the same time law enforcement in all its aspects, including regulating the construction industry, has not kept up with the pace,” he said, clamouring for more public investment.

Speaking recently to The Malta Independent, economist and JobsPlus chairperson Clyde Caruana, said that if the current rate of economic growth persisted, Malta could be looking at an increase of between 28,000 and 30,000 foreign nationals over the next four years.

If the past few years are anything to go by, Caruana’s prediction is likely to come true. This can only add to the challenges locality leaders like Borg Manche have to face.

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