Maltese society is changing far more than people will admit, far more than the politicians realise.
The process began some years ago, coinciding with EU accession, but probably pre-dated it by some years. What was a trickle has become a flood and it threatens to get bigger and stronger.
I am not talking here about the asylum seekers who come on boats in the perilous crossing from North Africa to our shores, mostly by accident, for usually they aim to reach the more welcoming Sicilian shores.
In this regard we are seeing that pushbacks are just not on, not when you have tragedies like the ones we had in the open sea, with deaths by drowning.
One can try and arrest the people-traffickers, the ‘scafisti’ as the Italians call them. They arrested one after the Lampedusa tragedy: he was a man who had been kicked out of Italy some months ago. Enough time to get back, buy a boat and collect money for a new trip.
One can try, as Berlusconi and Maroni tried with Gaddafi, to reach a deal with the Libyan government, but the events in Tripoli on Thursday show there’s no real government in Libya; one, that is, that can give a word and keep it.
It’s amazing how refugees from Syria are making their way all round the Mediterranean shore to Libya and then crossing over, amid so much danger.
The bulk of refugees from Syria are crossing into Turkey thence to Bulgaria or Greece. Still, the fact that the refugees we have been getting come from Syria or Somalia (another far-off country) show the lengths to which they go to find a new life for themselves.
While the general popular sentiment is decidedly against the asylum seekers, they have continued to come, mostly, I say, by mistake rather than by design. Studies published some time ago have shown that while the numbers of asylum seekers who have come ashore are quite huge, the numbers of those still here are somehow more modest. In other words, some, or many, are finding a way of moving on.
Nevertheless, the concentration of asylum seekers at Hal Far and Marsa, on the buses passing through Birzebbuga, and in the area near the Marsa Open Centre is quite a statement, seen by the entire population and probably by our visitors too.
What is happening now is that more and more of these refugees (that is, asylum seekers who have obtained refugee status and who can live and work in Malta) are moving out of the centres and slowly filtering through the various towns and villages. St Paul’s Bay has a sizeable community, so does Hamrun. Maybe other towns too.
Visiting Valletta and some specific government offices like the Passport Office, one meets a very high concentration of asylum seekers/refugees. Some jobs like waste collection and construction have acquired many of them. Slowly at first, they seem to increasingly adapt to Maltese customs and habits but are always reserved. Their children, accepted in state schools, integrate better.
But this is only one strand of the huge foreign influx into Malta that has now become a roaring torrent.
Historically, one can still find traces of the influx of Libyans from the 1970s, but these have now completely integrated into Maltese ways, far more than their counterparts do in other countries. I am still uncertain whether more Libyans have come over after the fall of Gaddafi or more Libyans have returned back home.
The Yugoslav wars have deposited many families from those troubled times in our midst and, again, integration has succeeded.
There is a strand of non-EU, non-asylum seekers, mainly African people who have somehow managed to come here.
EU accession has brought about a huge wave of immigration that is now becoming stronger. One only has to see the many cars with Italian, Bulgarian, Romanian number plates. These are countries with unemployment problems much worse than Malta’s and EU membership means they can come, stay and work in Malta. So far, I have not heard people grumbling at this turn of events even though many times you will find such foreigners serving you in a restaurant and cafes. Possibly, with unemployment being so low, the Maltese are not concerned as long as they have a job and as long as these persons are not perceived to have taken ‘Maltese’ jobs.
The asylum seeker regime we operate, with an enclosed regime for a year and a half, seems to discourage many asylum seekers from coming here, thus making them take more of a risk in the open sea to get to Sicily. But there is no pushback regime or anything like that, to stop the poor of Sicily, Italy, Romania, Bulgaria, and why not, Greece and Spain from relocating here.
Then there are the rich, or so-called rich.
Malta has been tempting them over ever since the six-penny British settlers of the 1960s, of which quite a few must still be around.
We have strands of Russians and Ukrainians, somehow finding a way of getting round the strict, possibly xenophobic, visa regime, and settling here.
But we are now getting our knickers in a twist about attracting the super-rich with all sorts of dire warnings in case they are Chinese (aided and abetted by incompetent media handling that spoke of Chinese made available in primary schools, replicating the Arabic imposed in the 1970s on a school population barely able to speak correct Maltese and English).
Under the PN administration we had a Special Resident Scheme which was rather low-key but which had started to attract some people with money and entrepreneurial ability to relocate to Malta. The government even designated some areas as Special Areas where property prices were perceived to be allowed to be higher-end.
Then came one Christmas and Tonio Fenech realized the government had outspent on one single case of an Englishman whose hospital bill turned out to be enormous. And Mr Fenech stopped being Father Christmas and banned the scheme with no warning at all.
Real estate companies who had many promises of sales on their books flipped but the government stood firm. Weeks turned into months and then a revised version of the scheme was issued but it raised the barrier so high it proved to be almost completely ineffective.
Then came the new government and hey presto in a matter of few weeks liberalized the regime. The government is now under concerted attack for selling Maltese passports (and, more importantly, Schengen rights) to super-rich Chinese who will use Malta as a stepping-stone to Europe.
I had written elsewhere that the scheme has attracted considerable interest from places like South Africa. I also note it does not seem the Chinese were waiting for this opening in Malta to slip into Europe. And they’re not just rich Chinese only. The other day, ‘Striscia la Notizia’ showed a house in Milan containing innumerable Chinese. As there are in Prato where they have taken over the silk trade.
Probably, the spin against rich Chinese has something to do with Minister Konrad Mizzi’s rich Chinese wife and her Malta Enterprise contract. Or possibly there is a link with future developments at the power station.
A friend has sent me a link to the United States Citizenship & Immigration Services which says:
“Green Card Through Investment
“Entrepreneurs (and their spouses and unmarried children under 21) who make an investment in a commercial enterprise in the United States and who plan to create or preserve ten permanent full time jobs for qualified United States workers, are eligible to apply for a green card (permanent residence).
“Up to 10,000 visas may be authorized each fiscal year for eligible entrepreneurs.
“You must invest $1,000,000, or at least $500,000 in a targeted employment area (high unemployment or rural area). In return, USCIS may grant conditional permanent residence to the individual.
“For more information, see Section 203(b)(5) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) and 8 CFR 204.6 (see the “INA” link to the right).
“You may be eligible to receive permanent residence based on investment if:
“You have an approved Form I-526, Immigrant Petition by Alien Entrepreneur
“You are admissible to the United States
“An immigrant visa is immediately available.”
In all this confusion, I once again urge a complete over-all study of incoming migration trends and a national sane debate on the issue, though I have given up hope on this.
There must be some principles we must make a stand on, such as fostering integration before handing out citizenship, not letting people use us (even if they pay) without understanding that being a citizen of Malta means understanding and accepting what Malta is all about.
And above all learning to be proud of being Maltese and our history instead of, like yesterday, clowning about with the statue of the man after whom Valletta is named. If we have no self-respect, how can we expect our visitors to respect us?