The Malta Independent 9 December 2023, Saturday
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What a scandal! 50,000 non-Maltese

Noel Grima Sunday, 22 January 2023, 08:07 Last update: about 12 months ago

That was, if I can be permitted to say so, a scandal-mongering of a header – “There are 50,000 non-Maltese on the island”.

In itself it was not much of a story – it relayed information given out in parliament in reply to a question.

But, as could be seen from the comments that flocked on to the websites, it touched the right triggers – density of the population, the presence of people of a dark colour, huge traffic jams, and so on and so forth.


Every time we speak about the increasing presence of non-Maltese persons in Malta, we tend to slip into xenophobia if not racism. Any mention of the non-Maltese is a sure-fire opener to speak about Third Country Nationals and for people to comment about sweeping the whole lot of them back to the sea.

If only it were so simple. First of all there different kinds of non-Maltese or TCNs, coming from different countries, doing different kinds of work.

I am speaking here about those who have legitimate reasons to be in Malta. Those who should not be here should be sent back to where they came from – as long as this is possible.

Contrary to what many might think, not all of these 50,000 work in the construction sector. Nor do they all come from Africa or the Near East. A recent statistic said the biggest group of non-Maltese came from the Balkans. Anecdotally I think we are now facing a glut of people from places like Bangladesh and India as can be seen from the many runners delivering food whizzing about on their bikes. Their knowledge of English enables them to communicate with the Maltese and vice-versa.

There is now a sizeable number of people in the gaming sector and associated sectors and these people tend to reside in the Sliema-St Julian’s area and enjoy life with their peers in those areas too.

As a people we may have progressed from mainly xenophobic comments and racism whenever we speak about the subject. We have now been alerted to a rather new factor – the many times we hear about traffic accidents in which a TCN is involved. Sometimes this comment comes accompanied with judgements about their lack of traffic consciousness especially when they are the victims of the accident.

So public consciousness slowly begins to see the non-Maltese as persons rather than just a threatening statistic.

And then, unfortunately, some of them get killed in horrific accidents (like the one this week) or even get murdered as happened on the first day of last year. In cases like these human solidarity comes to the fore and overcomes the difference of nationality. We boast that Malta is a safe country and we realise it may not be safe at all.

We must understand that we are so many now and there seems to be no way how the inflow can be reduced. Going xenophobic does not solve anything. We must learn to live with each other in so many numbers and to get along as we can. In case we still think we are exceptional, there are other countries with such density. Think Hong Kong, maybe Singapore. They have learnt there that the only solution is ever stricter enforcement. This lesson has not found its way here – we are still at the non-enforcement stage, if not the downright anarchic stage of every man for his own interest.

Then again we must reduce the dimensions of our ambitions – we cannot all get ranches of the California dimensions with pool and SUV as we see in the movies. And get these by taking over every arable land and building it. We have destroyed what little agriculture we had – not an achievement we can be proud of.

There was a time when Malta, or at least its cities such as Valletta, had a density we cannot imagine. Valletta had more than 20,000 residents (it has around 2,000 today) and the solution the authorities then found no better was emigration. What’s unacceptable to us today is precisely what is leading so many people to relocate here.

What’s the ideal population density for Malta? When the knights came in 1530 Malta’s population amounted to just 20,000 to which must be added the around 5,000 who accompanied them from Rhodes. When the knights left in 1798, Malta’s population had risen to 100,000. And yet each town or village was separate from the next and agriculture, such as it was, flourished.

This administration has improved  some of the main roads but we still get traffic jams at going to school and back from work times. As we keep importing cars and as our population continues to expand these jams will get worse.

So before boasting about Malta’s record population or scaring people by counting the number of non-Maltese we should try and improve our co-existential way of life and meanwhile learn better how to relate to each other.


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