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Maltese migrants in Australia facing age-related problems

Age-related issues were the most urgent with regard to Maltese migrants in Australia, Maurice Cauchi, who lives in Melbourne, said.

They were living in a relatively foreign country, which grew more and more foreign as they lost their ability to communicate adequately and became more dependent on people with less cultural affinity, he said.

Elderly Maltese now formed a third of the total Maltese-born generation in Australia, which was declining rapidly. By 2020, they were expected to number less than 20,000, with an annual loss of five per cent.

Prof. Cauchi was addressing the week-long 2010 Convention for Maltese Living Abroad.

He said most residential homes did not give enough importance to cultural needs. Having culturally-appropriate services remained a crucial recommendation but it was also like fighting a lost battle, he continued.

"Maltese elderly in Australia are still living in boredom and isolation, unable to secure a culturally- and linguistically-appropriate care facility," said Lawrence Dimech, one of the speakers.

Their major problems escalated to a worrying level when considering that most post-war migrants were illiterate or semi-illiterate in both English and Maltese.

Listing the issues, Mr Dimech referred to people who had lived in Australia for 50 years and reverted back to their native Maltese language in their 70s when they were institutionalised.

"What do you say to a Maltese person on his deathbed when he asks for a priest or a doctor that can speak to him in his own language?"

The problem was the Australian social welfare system perceived Maltese migrants as an ethnic group that had not experienced problems with the English language, Mr Dimech said.

"We have failed to build a solid partnership with the government to care for our elderly through the available grants and projects for the ethnic aged."

Mr Dimech highlighted the need for service providers, who were culturally- and linguistically-sensitive to the needs of the elderly, adding that his report on ageing Maltese 28 years ago had raised the same issues.

Per capita, the Maltese community had the lowest number of Maltese-speaking doctors, nurses and social workers, he said.

The establishment of an exchange programme of Maltese-speaking nurses to work in residences for the elderly was suggested at the convention.

Religious orders were also experiencing a shortage of members, meaning they could not expand their services.

If there were no more nuns, they needed to be replaced by Maltese-speaking persons who could help with the running of these organisations, Stephen Gatt said.

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