Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi yesterday inaugurated a memorial to Maltese child migrants at Valletta Waterfront.
"This memorial commemorates the 310 child migrants who travelled to Australia in search of a better life between 1950 and 1965. We respect their achievements. We rejoice in their successes. We regret any unintended consequences of child migration." These are the words etched on the stone wall that surrounds one side of the Waterfront laguna, where the Child Migrants' Memorial, in the form of a paper boat, floats.
Child migrants, who have been campaigning for a commemorative symbol, finally saw their request materialise as Dr Gonzi, fresh from the Floriana mass meeting, unveiled the memorial.
In fact, it was a more generous gesture than they had requested, David Plowman, a child migrant himself and chairman of Child Migrants Of Malta, said.
Prof. Plowman said the child migration scheme then had been based on good intentions and many benefitted from it but the psychological scars for others also ran deep.
The monument would not change the past but served as a lesson and showed that the government acknowledged what the child migrants had experienced.
One of four child migrants present at the ceremony, Prof. Plowman said they wanted closure - not litigation or compensation - and thanked the government for facilitating this in such an evocative way.
The Child Migrants' Memorial, designed by architects Rune Jacobson and David Drago, evokes childhood and fragility, Prof. Plowman said.
It is located at the same quay from where they left, which today represents both history and future - not only the country's heritage but its project to transform the port area into jewels, Dr Gonzi said. It was the place from where they had left and where they were now being welcomed.
Dr Gonzi, who had visited the child migrants' monument in Fremantle during his visit to Australia last July, augured that the memorial would also serve to open a new chapter, which would see the child migrants find a place in the unfolding history of Malta in a globalised world.
While some of the migrants found success, and the memorial showed the country's esteem for them, it also recognised that not everyone was fortunate, Dr Gonzi continued.
"We are sorry for those who suffered and will help to close the wounds," he said.
Archbishop Paul Cremona said: "We sincerely regret what was negative in the experience and bind ourselves in solidarity."
The 310 Maltese migrants, mostly boys, had been sent to Australia through the efforts of Maltese political and ecclesiastical authorities, with the consent of parents, or guardians, in the belief that it was in their best interest.
However, it eventually emerged that they had worked at institutions with no remuneration and many were not educated, remaining illiterate. A number were even physically and sexually abused. The trauma they experienced from leaving homes at ages as young as four to be institutionalised, bullied and overcome by homesickness and a sense of abandonment by their parents and their country caused other problems for some later on in life.
In April 2002, the Child Migrants Of Malta was set up to seek recognition of their reality, and in September 2005, the government decided to erect the monument.