The Maltese way with immigrants: nasty and stupid

Published: April 7, 2011 at 10:15am

This is my column in The Malta Independent today.

The comments-board on has long been infamous as a gathering-point for those Maltese who believe that the internet exists so that they can communicate to the world at large their stupidity, ignorance, semi-literacy, absolute lack of general knowledge and absence of rational thought.

For that I am grateful, because short of standing for hours in queues or spending the day on the buses, something I no longer have much of an opportunity to do, I wouldn’t have much access to those sorts of ‘conversations’. But reading the comments posted beneath stories about people displaced by war and strife, who have ended up as boat-people eventually stranded in Malta, is really sickening.

I am well aware of the murky depths of the Maltese psyche – vile, twisted, full of simmering hate and resentment, and contorted by a mixture of rage and envy that comes from the unvarying feeling that one is hard done by, and deserves more but doesn’t get it because others are getting it instead.

I have been at the receiving end of a barrage of this kind of sentiment for more than two decades, but I am largely indifferent and certainly not vulnerable. When I see the same sort of vileness directed at people who are extremely vulnerable at all levels, who cannot defend themselves, and who are terribly insecure and frightened, I am not sympathetic. I am horrified, and my impatience increases with those who further violate people who have been immeasurably violated already.

There are those who say that should not upload these hideous, racist and inhumane comments. But I am in two minds about it. I can see that the flood of nasty spite, the unadulterated ignorance, allows those who think this way to feel that they are right merely because so many others think as they do, that their stance is justified by ‘majority rule’. They might even encourage others to think the same way, promoting racism and repeating dangerous untruths.

But then again, I also think it is crucial that we are made aware of this widespread hatred and stupidity. You cannot counter what you do not know exists. It’s probably too late with adults, but many of them will have children who they raise in their own image. Just as attitudes towards bird-shooting, smoking, waste separation and environmental issues were systematically and successfully changed by targeting children in schools, so the same should be done now with racism, xenophobia and hatred of The Other.

Education minister Dolores Cristina, who I know would be as dismayed as I am by the horrors on the internet, should see immediately to the planning and implementation of a proper education programme on immigration. I realise from what I read of these inanities that many Maltese actually think that Africa is a single entity and that ‘Africans’ are one people: Muslims who live in grass huts.

As I write this, the news has just come in that 150 people are missing, presumed drowned, after an overloaded and shoddy boat capsized off Lampedusa but in Maltese waters. Many Maltese will be celebrating this fact while pretending not to do so – that is the level of ghastliness to which many have descended. They would rather those boat-people drown than have to deal with them, and the way our fellow Maltese speak and write, you’d imagine that they were dealing with them personally, when it is obvious that most of them have never even had the shortest conversation with a refugee or displaced person.

It is irritating to see so many speak about ‘the EU not helping us’, an outlook which is encouraged by our politicians, though it was a relief to know, through Bondiplus last Monday, that the minister of the interior, Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici, is equally impatient with those who say that Malta must tackle the situation from the perspective of somebody small and helpless demanding help. It is an insufferable sense of entitlement which reveals even more ignorance and an inability to consider the standpoint of others.

I really cannot bear to hear people talk about ‘the EU’ as though it is a foreign entity or a colonial master. Malta has been an integral part of ‘the EU’ for the last seven years. It is not a foreign organisation, but one which includes Malta. When Maltese isolationists talk about ‘the EU’ they sound exactly like English isolationists and they are probably not even aware of it.

The EU member state with the biggest immigration problem is the United Kingdom. It’s the very place where all the people who enter Europe illegally want to end up, because it is so easy to disappear there and because its social services are so good. The next on the list is France, mainly because it is the through-port for the United Kingdom. People make their way overland to France en route to England and then get stuck there, waiting to smuggle themselves across the channel.

There are makeshift camps on the French coast, full of young men waiting to strap themselves to the undercarriage of some truck, or get into the back of a lorry. And they don’t include only the ones who enter Europe by sea through Spain, Malta, Italy and Greece – but also the ones who come in overland from the Middle East, from Afghanistan and Iraq, and from south-east Asia. Lots of Chinese are smuggled in, and thousands of women from the former Soviet Union, many of them trafficked.

Perhaps if Maltese people looked more often beyond the bars of their hamster’s cage on a rock positioned between Tripoli and Sicily, they would know these things and be able to keep the situation in perspective.

One of the main factors obstructing burden-sharing is precisely this: Malta thinks that the only immigration burdens that will be shared are Malta’s and, if we are feeling generous, Italy’s. But you can’t have that kind discrimination in a European context. So if burden-sharing comes into play, then the immigration burdens of the United Kingdom, Greece, Spain, France and Germany will have to be shared too.

Malta, with its collapsing birth-rate, might very well end up with more immigrants and not fewer, but it looks like nobody’s thought of that one.

The reality is that it is not the numbers which bother us, but the colour and the religion and the place of origin. Throughout Malta’s history, right up until the 1990s, the only black people on these two islands have been slaves – right up until the early 19th century – and in the 20th century, American sailors.

Black people have never lived in our community in the last 200 years, and before that, they lived here as chattels, leading to the notorious dictum, spoken by those who are left out of distribution of goods, services and food ‘Mela jien iswed?’ (‘Am I a slave?’). Marlene Mizzi used it on Super One television a couple of weeks ago, and immediately realised her error.

People from North Africa look no different to the Maltese. We have had plenty of opportunity to examine that reality with all the news coverage we have been watching over the last three months. But we are wary and suspicious of them because their religion, from the 15th century onwards (and not the 11th, as some fondly imagine) has been Malta’s historical enemy.

Malta cannot simply rush ‘to the EU’ and demand that boat-people who come here are offloaded elsewhere. You have to consider the position of other member states. On Bondiplus last Monday, Simon Busuttil was the only one to point this out. You have to see where the others are coming from. Why should they share Malta’s burden when they are not sharing the United Kingdom’s? Why should member states which have never had a problem with immigration opt to create difficulties for themselves?

The level of ignorance is truly abysmal. Somebody posted a comment on my website (this website) arguing that the arrival of 800 immigrants in Malta is greater in impetus than the arrival of ‘190,000 in Lampedusa’. It was not 190,000 immigrants who landed on Lampedusa, but 19,000. This man is keen to talk about burdens and about not being able to cope, but his geographical knowledge and ability to absorb data are far from adequate.

As many of my readers know (or at least, I hope so) it would be impossible for 190,000 overnight arrivals to fit on Lampedusa. Malta’s 800 arrivals are certainly not equal to 190,000 on Lampedusa or even to 19,000. Lampedusa’s population is 6,025 and its land area is 25.48km. Malta’s population is 413,609 and its land area is 316km. To equal Lampedusa’s 19,000 arrivals in terms of ‘burden’, Malta would have to receive 1,302,868 immigrants in two days (3.15 times its population). Going on this man’s assumed 190,000 on Lampedusa, that would make Malta’s equivalent burden 13,045,227 arrivals in two days – and as with Lampedusa and the imagined 190,000, there would be no physical space for them, either.

The real argument he should be using is that Lampedusa is part of Italy, but even there, we cannot make the mistake of going on the basis of land area, because immigrants have to be integrated into cities, which have population pressures much worse than Malta’s. They do not settle in country towns, mountain villages or have new towns built for them in all that empty space.

The same man repeated the canard that ‘we’ have to house, feed and clothe ‘them’ (refugees are able to work and do so) and the other canard that ‘they jump the queue’ at hospitals. Try ‘jumping the queue’ in hospital and see what happens. You cannot queue-barge, because your name is called out and you go in when you are called. That misconception comes from the fact that when ‘illegals’ are taken to hospital for medical treatment, accompanied by a police officer and usually and humiliatingly in handcuffs, they are rushed through – not so that they don’t have to wait, but so that the police officer doesn’t have to.

Not being nice to the vulnerable is bad enough, but so many Maltese seem determined to add crass ignorance to their problems. I find that the two often go together and even define far-right political sentiment (which crosses the two main political parties): nasty and stupid.

16 Comments Comment

  1. What are they saying here – that if the ’emergency solidarity mechanism’ were operating, those people would not have drowned yesterday? That’s totally illogical, unless they are suggesting that Italy and Malta allowed them to drown on purpose so as to put pressure on the European Commissioner:

  2. CaMiCasi says:

    “There are those who say that should not upload these hideous, racist and inhumane comments… But then again, I also think it is crucial that we are made aware of this widespread hatred and stupidity.”

    Possibly, but that’s not the reason that upload the comments at all, is it. It’s because the newspaper is making a conscious decision to allow hideous, racist and inhumane content to boost readership and attract people to the site, which I would suggest is lower than low.

  3. M. says:

    Those posting such ignorant comments on The Times would have done well to watch “Uno Mattina” on Rai Uno this morning (assuming that they could understand Italian, that is).

    Today’s subject was immigration, with the main focus being the latest tragedy, with some 200 people being feared drowned.

    An Italo-Libyan priest speaking on the programme said that the greatest mystery surrounding the tragedy was that the 40 or so bodies found so far all had gunshot wounds on them.

    Would people take such risks – and, in some cases, even risk their children’s lives (for yes, there were even children on board) – without weighing their options?

    I can’t understand the people posting such inhumane comments online, moreso if they have got children themselves.

  4. Maria says:

    Most of these people are not illegal immigrants at all. One has to distinguish between illegal immigrants and asylum seekers. Unfortunately people who are vulnerable seem to be abused time and time again by the” system” and that goes for the Maltese, as well.

  5. “Malta, with its collapsing birth-rate, might very well end up with more immigrants and not fewer, but it looks like nobody’s thought of that one.”

    An Italian President (I can’t remember which one now) some 12 years ago had said the same thing with regard to Italy. He had publicly acknowledged the NECESSITY of immigration in Italy due to its negative birth rate.

    I also remember the accompanying report by the TV anchor (on Canale 5, I think) explaining that no society ever benefited from a low birthrate, let alone a negative one.

    Civilisations decline and are eventually extinguished when this happens, and this is why immigration provides a good solution. As an added bonus, it also strengthens the gene pool stock. The good president came under fire for saying this, with the public calling him all sorts of ghastly names for even suggesting that Italy might actually be gaining rather than losing from the phenomenon.

  6. .Angus Black says:

    It’s been some months since I decided to disassociate myself from commentators on The Times for exactly the same reason as explained above. Some comments are beyond distressing, they are sickening.

    It seems to me that those thumbing their nose at immigrants are the ones who, through political favouritism and sheer luck, did not have to leave our shores and join the thousands of their own brethren, starting a new life thousands of miles away. Many thousands found it impossible to stay in the 50s, 60s and 70s.

    Those emigrants did not land at their new adopted homeland stepping on red carpets. They had to start from scratch, many a time their qualifications, certificates and diplomas were useless having been told that ‘they meant absolutely nothing’.

    So, to assume that these immigrants are having it too easy and stealing bread from our mouths, just for a change, think hard about it. As difficult as it was for emigrants from this island, to leave family, friends, their towns and their customs, it is equally heart-breaking for these unfortunate immigrants to sever their ties with all they had been brought up with, irrespective of their living standard.

    It seems that we Maltese have it in our DNA that we expect the world to owe us a privileged position and that we have absolute rights of getting something, for nothing in return.

  7. Patrik says:

    For something completely different, although still on topic of race. Amusing spelling mistake on Times of Malta today:

    “Popular singer-songwriter James Blunt flew in by private jew early this afternoon for his concert at the Valletta Waterfront this evening.”

    Can’t be much more rock-star than that. Come flying on a rabbi with wings.

  8. April Showers says:

    The sound moral values we are trying to protect by sending the ‘niggers’ back where they came from:

  9. M Muscat says:

    I am also disgusted by many of the comments submitted on not only in the case where emigrants/refugees/racial issues are involved but also in many other cases.

    However, I’m not against having people of any background being able to voice an opinion (however stupid or ignorant it might be) or of having timesofmalta showing all the comments irrespective of their content value. I think that should offer the possibility for people to press “LIKE” or “DISLIKE” individual comments and the comment would have a counter showing the total number of “LIKE”/”DISLIKE” hits.

    Like this, a comment will be given the weight it merits…

    [Daphne – Or not.]

  10. Mark-Anthony Fenech says:

    I would be more than happy to trade a Maltese ‘ġaħan,’ such as those xenophobes on the timesofmalta online, for a decent African.

  11. Lucien says:

    My wife and I come from Australia and have been here in Malta for a year now.

    While we like Malta, we unfortunately do not like the Maltese people all that much. My wife is more forgiving and generous than me, but even she is taken aback by the rudeness and stupidity of Maltese people. Sorry, but it is true.

    I wish it wasn’t so, but it is true to say that generally speaking, Maltese people are badly educated. Of course there are exceptions to the rule, but I have to say that for every five Maltese, only one may be good.

    I can give you many examples of bad behavior and rudeness from the Maltese. A bus driver who didn’t let my wife on the bus because he didn’t have the right change – she had only a five euro note. She was told she could not board AND IT WAS RAINING.

    Our neighbor downstairs who appears to have a workshop even though we are in a residential area. On Christmas morning at 8am he decided to use his electric saw to cut wood. On Christmas morning! When I complained, he yelled that I should go back my country. So I yelled back: hey, my country has 100,000 Maltese – maybe the Australian government should ship them all back to Malta.

    I can give you many examples of absolute stupidity and callousness and rudeness here in Malta. Yes, we have stupid and rude people everywhere, but Malta appear to have more per capita. They are normally stupid and rude to each other, but ESPECIALLY to foreigners.

    I remember clearly one day in a cafe the day after the earthquake in Haiti. We watched it on TV. I said to the Maltese waitress, what a tragedy it was for the people. I will never forget her reply: “Oh, that can happen anywhere!” She shrugged her shoulders and walked away to serve us stale, rotten food that made us feel ill the next day.

    So to sum up, the only reason my wife and I stay in Malta, is because of teh lovely weather and a few nice beaches and friends we have made. One or two are Maltese, but only because they have themselves married foreigners. There are two very distinct communities in Malta, actually three: the Maltese; the British; the Europeans and the bottom of the pile, the poor unfortunate Africans.

    My wife who grew up in Africa, was initially puzzled by the Africans here in Malta. Normally African people are happy people who smile and are cheerful. She said she has never seen such miserable Africans before.

    Now we know the answer. BECAUSE THEY ARE HERE IN MALTA and have to suffer the brutality and ignorance of the Maltese people! No wonder why they look so miserable. Life is hard for any refugee, but to be a refugee in Malta – oh my God!

  12. laurie formosa says:

    I believe there are more Maltese in Australia than there are in Malta, why? Many Maltese came to Australia in the late 40s and 50s after the war.

    There are many more all over the world. Luckily the Australian people accepted them other wise where would they be now.

    Why don’t you people accept the refugees? It’s funny here in Australia, we have refugees here, the people making the most noise about them settling here are the migrants of the 40s and 50s.

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