Immigrants and the melting pot
Boat people and other immigrants barely featured in the weekend press. The newspapers were dominated by efforts to analyse the way Richard Cachia Caruana was brought down from his important role of Malta’s representative in the EU, and by the role and views of the man who pulled the political trigger, Nationalist MP Jesmond Pullicino Orlando.
Those stories elicited little that was new, other than that the MP is seeing his party in old Communist terms, polititburo and all.
Nor do immigrants seem to be high among respondents’ concerns, according to a survey carried out by MaltaToday. I find that surprising. Immigrants represent an issue which will not go away and that has to be tackled more meaningfully than has happened so far.
The calm seas of summer are bringing along more waves of boat people rescued in Malta’s territorial area. They are a reminder of various aspects of the situation.
One is that, in relatively large or small numbers, they will continue to arrive in Malta, even though in all probability their preferred destination is mainland Europe.
Another is that at least a number of the new arrivals will remain in Malta for an unidentifiable length of time, despite the policy to try to send them back to North Africa as soon as feasibly possible.
In the meanwhile, Malta continues to be criticised because it places boat people in detention for a period. Criticism of the conditions prevalent in detention quarters may be justified.
Yet detention has to take place for health reasons, if for no other. What is important is that, in detention or otherwise, boat people should be treated humanely. That applies also to the wider picture, which says that boat people who have remained in Malta now run into hundreds, even thousands.
That reality calls for action beyond that required on a humane basis, for a further aspect of the boat people issue is that Malta will continue to find little help from the rest of the EU to take meaningful numbers of boat people to relocate them in other countries.
The further reality is that a strong and growing kernel of boat people are here to stay. That reality has cultural implications that need to be faced.
More has to be done to help these unintended immigrants to integrate into our society, through proper education for the children among them and reasonable education grounding for adults.
Adults should also be helped to find work, because they are mostly black, they are becoming quite visible among the labour force, doing menial work in line with the unattractive standard model of immigration elsewhere. The authorities should do more to ensure that such employment is of the regular type, and not provided by employers out for a cheap bargain.
In this regard it has been reported that immigrants do not respond enough to official initiatives, preferring to work in the shadow economy. That must be stopped through stricter oversight on employers in the first instance.
The immigrants issue should also be seen in a wider context than that of boat people who, by force of circumstance, stay on in Malta.
Boat people are recognised because every rescue and landing is reported, because the areas where they are kept teem with them, and in particular because of the colour of their skin.
It is also a fact, however, that there is a rising cohort of white immigrant workers, coming mostly from former Communist-run countries. They come to Malta as a matter of choice, and stay or leave depending on their personal circumstances. They add to the cultural issue that is unfolding.
Again, proper enforcement of labour laws to ensure they are not exploited is required.
Beyond all that, there has to be broad recognition that Malta is changing. Immigrants may have different customs and values.
These have to be recognised by the Maltese community and dealt with in official and personal terms if proper assimilation is to take place.
Through the years from time immemorial Malta has been a cultural melting pot. We are at another stage where the pot is being significantly added to.
Years down the line the immigrant community, already sizeable, will be bigger. The social, cultural and economic implications should be anticipated and prepared for now.