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September 10 2012 09:30 | Priests' House (Conference Hall)

From Emergency to Integration: Our experience in Malta

Edgar Busuttil

Director of Justice and Peace Center, Malta

In these past ten years, many irregular immigrants have reached our shores in precarious overcrowded boats: From 2002 to 2011 the number of irregular immigrants who landed in Malta mainly from Sub Saharan Africa was almost 15,000.  This year - 2012, up to the beginning of August a little less than 1300 arrived.  With 6.5 applications per 1000 inhabitants every year, Malta is one of the EU countries with the highest number of asylum seekers in relation to its population   Over the years authorities have struggled to cope with this large influx. In this presentation I intend to highlight the difficulties involved in this emergency which Malta has faced and to explore possible ways in which it could be handled in the future. How would Malta be able to handle this issue in a positive way so that in the long term those that have a right to stay in Malta would be integrated in its Society? First I will list the main challenges Malta will have to overcome to build an adequate integration policy and then I will present a few suggestions on how to overcome them.
    The Challenges:
    1. Lack of Resources   
    Government and the local population have argued that in terms of space, resources and employment opportunities the island is unable to provide for large numbers of undocumented migrants, especially in the light of the fact that unlike landings on other islands such as Lampedusa, Malta does not have a hinterland into which to redistribute this population.   
    2. Negative attitudes of many Maltese towards the migrants
    After ten years of hosting migrants in Malta, not only do many Maltese appear to resist, or at least, lack the opportunity to form meaningful communal bonds with other ethnic groups. In Malta, like in other EU countries, the phenomenon of irregular immigration has led to a rise of racist sentiments and xenophobia.  There is a rising tide of intolerance of that which is perceived to be foreign to the community, with an increase in xenophobia and racism, and suspicion (mostly due to ignorance) of other religious traditions.
    3 Discrimination
    In a breakdown of the groups most discriminated against, the Fundamental Rights agency found that far and away, the most persecuted community was the Roma living in the Czech Republic. Africans, both from the Maghreb and south of the Sahara also made it into the top of the chart, with 63 percent of all Africans in Malta,
“Using language rarely found in the dry reports of EU agencies, the FRA
(Fundamental Rights agency) described as "shocking" the rampantly racist,
anti-immigrant and   Islamophobic experiences of minorities as they go
about their daily lives.”

    4. Many irregular immigrants do not want to stay in Malta
    Most of the irregular migrants themselves state that their original intended location was mainland Europe and they could not envisage the island providing them with the opportunities necessary for long term resettlement. This means that many immigrants are not motivated to strive to integrate in Maltese society
    5. Inhuman Policies
    Inhuman policies are creating more obstacles to integration. The government has been repeatedly criticised that the danger of rising racial violence is directly related to the detention policy and the ghettoization of migrants in large open centres. Many irregular immigrants are placed in detention for a period of one year up to eighteen months, except for those who are deemed to be in a vulnerable category. It is also well known that the detention centres and open centres are mostly substandard—a fact that has worsened the migrants’ relationship with the Maltese and led many to experience deep psychological difficulties.  These measures go against human dignity and are conducive to increased anger, violence and dehumanisation on the part of all concerned—not only immigrants.
    Facing the challenges
        Some of the challenges which Malta faces cannot be met by Malta without help. Malta is very small and very densely populated so there is a limit on how many migrants it can integrate. Malta certainly needs solidarity and support from the EU. At the moment Member States have adopted voluntary and non-binding solidarity measures for responsibility measures while the European Parliament has consistently recommended on the establishment of a mandatory mechanism for responsibility measures. It is vital for Malta that the present Dublin Regulation would be amended on these lines. 
    On the other hand Malta needs its own quota of migrants. Malta’s population is aging and the more time passes the more it needs young workers to be able to have a healthy economy and to be able to have sufficient funds to finance an adequate pension scheme.
    Malta needs to change its policies with regards to irregular immigration from policies which are short term, short sighted costly and inhuman to policies which are long term; long sighted and which respect the human dignity of all involved. Certainly the detention policy needs to be revamped.  
    Since time immemorial; before becoming Christian even; the Maltese have been known for their humanity and hospitality.  When Pope John Paul II visited Malta in 2001 he affirmed that Malta has a special vocation:
“Malta is at the centre of the Mediterranean. You therefore have a unique vocation to be builders of bridges between the peoples of the Mediterranean basin, between Africa and Europe. The future of peace in the world depends on strengthening dialogue and understanding between cultures and religions. Continue in your traditions of hospitality, and continue in your national and international commitment on behalf of freedom, justice and peace.”
Having a positive attitude towards our African brothers and sisters who are landing on our shores is crucial not only for the good of these poor people. It is also crucial for us Maltese. Rather than being taken up by paralyzing and destructive fears we must look at these changes as a golden opportunity to rediscover our true identity as Maltese.



1Vedi allegato 1
2Vedi allegato 2
3Isabelle Calleja Ragonesi The politics of Integration in a Small Island Peripheral State: the Case of Malta in ed Peter Xuereb:  Migration and Asylum in Malta and the European Union: Rights and Realities 2002 to 2011 p.199
4Isabelle Calleja Ragonesi The politics of Integration in a Small Island Peripheral State: the Case of Malta in ed Peter Xuereb:  Migration and Asylum in Malta and the European Union: Rights and Realities 2002 to 2011 p.199
5Stephen Calleya and Derek Lutterbeck, Managing the Challenges of Irregular Immigration in Malta (Malta: The Today Public Policy Institute, 2008).
6Un confronto dei dati raccolti dallo European Values Survey negli ultimi tre decenni rivela che i maltesi sono diventati decisamente più tolleranti verso gli alcolisti, le persone psichicamente instabili e i tossicodipendenti, e molto più tolleranti verso gli omosessuali (da un livello di intolleranza del 44.3% nel 1991 al 21.1% nel 2008). Tuttavia essi sono molto più intolleranti verso gli immigrati (dal 3.2% nel 1983 al 34.1% nel 2008), verso persone di altre etnie (dal 9% nel 1983 al 25.6% nel 2008) e verso i musulmani (dal 12% nel 1991al 31% nel 2008).
EVS Foundation/Tilburg University, European Values Study 2008, 4th wave, Integrated Dataset, ZA4800 Dataset Version 1.0.0 (2010-06-30), (Cologne: GESIS, 2010).
7Liegh Philips (in 9/12/2009)
8Global Detention Project, “Malta Detention Profile,” ultimo aggiornamento Dicembre 2009,
9Alison Gatt Fair Sharing of Asylum Responsibility within the EU: Addressing Malta’s Scenario in ed Peter Xuereb:  Migration and Asylum in Malta and the European Union: Rights and Realities 2002 to 2011 p.166
10“Una volta in salvo, venimmo a sapere che l'isola si chiamava Malta. Gli abitanti ci trattarono con rara umanità; ci accolsero tutti attorno a un fuoco, che avevano acceso perché era sopraggiunta la pioggia e faceva freddo” (At 28, 1-2)

Cerimonia di congedo da Malta- Gudja International Airport (9 Maggio 2001)


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