I have always wondered why Europe has taken such a downturn in its dealings with immigrants compared to Anglophone countries such as Canada and Australia. In a recent excellent publication by Rita Chin, The Crisis of Multiculturalism in Europe – A History, the reasons are made abundantly clear.

The previously imperialist countries like the UK, France and the Netherlands have for generations benefited from their colonies, growing rich and prosperous from income generated from them, often to the detriment of their own economy.

The inhabitants of these colonies, like India, the West Indies or Algeria, were considered citizens of the mother country, with every legal right to settle there. They were even welcomed in the post-war period when there was an urgent need for foreign labour. By the 1960s, however, problems started accumulating. All three countries introduced legislation to limit the foreign influx with varying degrees of failure.

On the other hand, Germany has repeatedly declared that it was never a nation for permanent settlers and preferred what eventually proved to be a most unsatisfactory arrangement in the form of ‘guest workers’, most from Turkey or Morocco. They were expected to return home after a stint of work in Germany. In retrospect, expecting settlers to go home after several years was hardly a reasonable expectation.

Australia and Canada allowed immigration on the understanding that permanent settlement was the desired outcome. Quotas were not determined by historical exigencies or any predetermined ‘right’ of citizenship. None were citizens of the host country before their arrival, and hence had no preconceived rights. Immigrants were selected on criteria which included particular expertise, needs of business and family reunion.

It is bad enough when one is considered as different, foreign, even inferior, and perceived as competing for employment and accommodation. It is even more ominous when immigrants are demonised as a group or a ‘race’, incapable of integration, a situation that has happened in Europe in recent times.

Europe has been deluged by ‘irregular migrants’. Some were initially welcomed, as happened in Germany – a decision that came at a heavy political cost to Chancellor Angela Merkel. Other countries were adamantly against imposed quotas, so that countries of first call, like Greece, Italy, Turkey and Malta, did not have the luxury of choosing who to permit entry. Britain’s decision to leave the EU was highly influenced by the perception that they have lost control of their borders, resulting in unemployment and escalating social problems.

It is now probably naive to hope that multiculturalism would work in countries where it has been proclaimed dead. Multiculturalism works best as prevention rather than cure. To propose that multiculturalism, a social regulator that has worked well in Anglophone countries, would be the panacea to deal with the current cataclysmic social issues in Europe is unrealistic.

It is ominous when immigrants are demonised as a group or a ‘race’, incapable of integration

The result is social unrest, disaffection, and conflict. In Malta, social problems associated with the relatively small number of immigrants have begun to rear their heads.

While talking about racial characteristics has been taboo since the Nuremberg Trials, a more insidious and nuanced stance has been taken by some political leaders who, while refraining from blaming race, have felt comfortable in denouncing “insuperable cultural differences” as the reason for the impossibility of integration by immigrants who are “non-white, non-Christian and non-assimilable”. This dialogue is already current in the Maltese population and is uncomfortably close to the situation in European countries a generation ago, prior to the frank outburst of conflict, which we Maltese should try to avoid at all costs. All it needs is some populist to expound such views, which would serve as a last straw to initiate a conflagration.

Unless measures are taken early, we are bound, in the coming decade, to suffer from the same issues Europe has gone through, with catastrophic results. It is not enough to put all the onus on immigrants to integrate and settle peacefully. The host country should take those measures found effective where multiculturalism has taken root.

The following measures merit consideration and might be helpful in preventing undesirable outcomes, if instituted in good time:

• Avoid concentrating non-natives in specific areas;

• Avoid concentrating children from a different background in the same class/school;

• Encourage ethnic organisations to care for compatriots – they are not homogeneous;

• Encourage leaders from the community to liaise with government bodies involved in the welfare of migrants;

• Set up an umbrella organisation with a view to coordinate the work of individual ethnic organisations. The Ethnic Communities Council of Victoria works on this principle and has been found to be very helpful;

• Create the post of Commissioner for Migrant Affairs to be the eyes and ears of government on migrant issues;

• Set up cultural sensitivity training for employers and those in first-line contact with migrants, including particularly the police;

• Encourage intercultural activities at all levels, including art, food and other festivities, to open a window for locals to appreciate other cultures;

• Encourage employment at an early stage, essential not just for economic reasons but also for mental health;

• Educate the public, particularly to counteract negative propaganda;

• While it is unreasonable to expect some religious practices to be diluted overnight, insist that everyone has to accept the laws of the land.

At all costs we have to prevent Malta from taking the historical path taken by other European countries, leading to the disastrous social problems they face today.

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