I could write about a humanitarian disaster, slavery or human trafficking and get zero response. But, mention the M word and the balloon goes up as noisy and spectacular as fireworks on a festa night. Maltese politics aside, no subject seems as explosive today as that of migration. But, unlike festa fireworks, debates on migration all too often produce little light.

Just as Maltese migrants have done elsewhere in the world for centuries, foreigners will continue to come here; they will have children, use public services, seek out work, housing and education – eventually they will vote and help mould Maltese society as Maltese votes have done elsewhere. Some will view these changes with alarm but Malta is already changing from within – changes that many may oppose but are powerless to stop.

Change is inevitable and is not the result of negative outside forces. The challenge is to positively manage it and to do it with dignity, respect and care for all and not through sloganeering and short-sightedness.

It is a fact of life that more than ever people cross borders for much the same reason that consumer goods, computer programs, the gambling industry and Euros do - their anticipated value (not just economic value) will be increased.

Factors driving migration here now include increased international mobility; Malta’s location in the world; economic demands; previous migration patterns; international treaties, agreements and, sadly, poor practices (e.g. with the EU and the UN) and the limited power of small states (and not just Malta – here there are lessons to be learned) to act in isolation from powerful global trends.

Adopting current ‘popular’ solutions to ‘reduce or eliminate’ migration (stopping ‘them’ - if we could agree on who ‘they’ are - or sending ‘them’ home etc.) would somehow involve removing or insulating Malta from the wider world (e.g. leaving the EU, withdrawal from selected UN agreements).

Such policies are of course possible but they would have serious, perhaps even devastating consequences at many levels from social to political and economic. Malta cannot survive and prosper with such a ‘pick and mix’ version of internationalism.

Much more needs to be done to research and understand what precisely it is Maltese and Gozitan people want, what their concerns or fears are and how these might be addressed.

A more serious and considered conversation is urgently needed. Much more needs to be done to research and understand what precisely it is Maltese and Gozitan people want, what their concerns or fears are and how these might be appropriately addressed.

It is clear to me that not all Maltese have the same views and plenty of the ‘noise’ on migration comes from other ‘foreigners’ (e.g. Irish, British, and South Africans etc. who refuse to see themselves as migrants). Most research and advocacy to date has been (correctly in my view) on the migrants; there are virtually no studies that document the views and concerns (contradictory or otherwise) of a representative cross-section of Maltese society. In its absence, social media with all its severe limitations and weaknesses fills the gap, often with vicious consequences.

Maltese and Gozitans have a right to be heard as real people and not as comic caricatures in someone else’s imagination. Otherwise, the dominant voices will be those of business or those of bigots or worse. Such research is a sine qua non for any serious conversation or strategy on Malta, migration and the future.

The lack of research, policy and opportunity and the discussions they could generate highlights how Maltese politics and society has failed to deal seriously with the subject. It undermines day-to-day discussion of the topic (reducing it to the ‘I’m not racist but…’ variety); it ensures the subject is only considered in a ‘crisis’ context and ultimately condemns it to remain toxic for both Maltese and ‘foreigners’.


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