Malta’s territorial waters are believed to be somewhat around 3,830km2 which for an island so small in the Mediterranean, it is quite a substantial area to cover in terms of the surrounding sea.
To this effect, it is highly probable that a lot of traffic passes through or by the Maltese territory, not least that of refugees leaving other countries, namely from the shores of North Africa.
Before delving further into this discussion, one needs to outline the definition of the term refugee. Going by the definition laid down by the UNHCR, refugees are people who “fled war, violence, conflict or persecution”.
The definition expands by stating that refugees would have “crossed an international border to find safety in another country.” In a nutshell, we can conclude that a refugee is someone who is seeking safety within another nation. As a result, in recent months Europe has witnessed an influx of refugees from Ukraine – these too would fall under this category due to the ongoing war.
However, we will be basing this article on a study coordinated by Prof. Simone Galea from the University of Malta called Learning Diversity: A Case Study of Refugee Students in Primary Schools, which observes and analyses the impacts left by a multitude of factors on refugee students within Maltese schools.
The Maltese Islands are historically known to be very hospitable with a number of civilisations coliving with the local population for hundreds of years. It is definitely not any different today, with many more nationalities living together in such a small space.
This might bring by a sense of resentment towards the other or the unknown, whilst it could also be stemming from a level of fear by what is commonly more known as small island mentality – where a population is insecure about its power to retain culture, value and tradition.
That aside, in the case study, explained further in THINK Magazine's October 2022 issue, one could see that primary school refugee students have been marginalised by the locals.
It is worth mentioning that Malta was one of four countries chosen for this study with countries like Italy, Greece and Turkey having very similar results to those extracted from the local scene.
A number of factors can often lead to this, mainly the obvious and most evident factor – language. Language barriers can often lead to one feeling alienated and left out of the conversation. This could lead also to other problems such as bullying, with one possibly experiencing public humiliation for not understanding the rest.
In Prof. Galea’s study, it was quite clear that whilst there is an element of advantage for Arab-speaking students to adapt to the Maltese language due to the similarities in vocabulary between the two languages, still students have experienced a hard time integrating with anyone who is not a native speaker of their language. Some even confessed to having their peers talking behind their backs instead of trying to make the process easier for them to become part of the group.
So does this make us a racist country?
While we do not have a definite answer to give you, let this article, which just scratched the surface of the study in question, be a way for you to reflect and think about how to improve the current situation, even on a personal level.
Whether we like it or not, Malta has been and will likely continue to be a hub of cultures mixing together so it’s everyone’s job to take the most out of this experience by learning from each other, sharing knowledge and understanding that like us, these people are social beings too, and therefore also have the need to connect and feel part of the community as anyone else.
However, it is not all doom and gloom. A lot of initiatives are already in full swing and these have also been highlighted by the Learning Diversity project in the aforementioned 4 countries, praising the efforts done by educators and schools in various areas. While this is considered good news, it should continue to pave the way for further improvements in the area.
In your opinion, is Malta truly multicultural?
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Based on an original THINK article, written by Jonathan Firbank