Chairman's Address at the Opening Ceremony
Author: George N. Busuttil, Chairman of the Convention
Your Excellency Prof. de Marco President of Malta, Your Grace the Archbishop of Malta Mgr. Mercieca, Hon. Ministers, Excellencies, leaders of Associations of our Communities abroad, Convention delegates, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.
I would like to thank you all for accepting our invitation and for your presence here this morning to participate in the inauguration of this Convention of Leaders of Associations of Maltese Abroad and of Maltese Origin.
As you may be aware the first Migrants Convention was held in Malta by the Emigrants Commission in July, 1969. At that time Malta was still experiencing the effects of migration. Migration from Malta to other countries mainly in the Mediterranean region had started during the last century to countries such as Tunisia, Morocco, Algiers, Libya, Egypt and France. However after the Second World War migration started again in a very big way. A significant number of Maltese left our shores to find their fortune and to develop a better future for their families in their new countries of adoption mainly U.S.A., Canada, U.K. and Australia.
In 1969 the Convention addressed the various aspects affecting migrants who had relatively recently settled down overseas. It also planned for the continuous flow that was to follow 1969. To-day the Convention will have different objectives. Migration for our society is now a historical term. However one must not forget that over 160,000 Maltese had migrated from Malta during the last fifty years. When one takes into account the second and third generations the popular belief that there are more Maltese living abroad than in Malta strikes one as being indeed very realistic. So there is now an urgent need to look at other aspects, to study the prevailing situation of our Communities abroad, and the needs and aspirations of our extended Community.
We need to give encouragement and support for the preservation of Maltese Language and Culture amongst second and third generation members of the Community. We also need to discuss the situation regarding the ageing problems of our Communities abroad and to look into the question of pastoral needs and religious support. We must also study in what ways Malta can positively enhance and increase closer contact with second and third generation Maltese living abroad, and especially how to make better and wider use of modern means of communication with such Communities.
One is also expected to study whether a central permanent organisation could be set up in Malta to coordinate future initiatives in this regard and give substance to the recommendations and deliberations of the Convention thereby acceding to the expressed wish of many a Maltese living abroad. Similar ogranisations already exist in Italy and Greece. This tall list of objectives gains more significance as the Convention is being held at the beginning of the Third Millennium, a good time to plan ahead for the future and to make valid and lasting resolutions.
Our communities abroad have managed to integrate themselves extremely well in their countries of adoption albeit the many difficulties they initially encountered. Several members have excelled in various sectors of society be it the academic, business, sports, religious, cultural and political sectors. Without losing in any way their allegiance to the country of adoption they share one common factor; namely a strong and close link with Malta. The Maltese living overseas express this relationship in various ways. In a recent letter by a prominent person in Australia, which I have read, this person wrote that: “No Maltese who makes a new life overseas ever ceases to be Maltese and it is this common bond, this shared heritage that ultimately always draws us together and back to our beloved Malta”.
Another impressive way of expressing this relationship was recorded by Historian Barry York when he interviewed a Maltese pioneer settler in Australia. This person was particularly wise in interpreting his feelings. He said that to him: “Malta was his mother and Australia was his wife”. These two expressions portray in an unequivocal way the true feelings of most of the delegates present here do-day.
My Committee has worked very hard to ensure that the Convention would meet the expectations of all members of our Community abroad. In view of the fact that there are practically several hundreds of Associations of Maltese Abroad it was no easy task to decide who to invite as official speakers to ensure a successful Convention. To facilitate the widest participation possible we obtained sponsorship for travel by U.N.D.P. for a good number of delegates from all over the world. However there were evidently others still interested in participating, but sponsorship though generous was limited. So we extended all invitation to all those who happen to be in Malta or who decided to come specifically for the purpose, to attend the Convention, thereby not excluding any prospective participants.
I would like to thank the Hon. Minister of Foreign Affairs for entrusting me with the Chairmanship of the Organisation. This is of special significance to me since having served for several years in the Diplomatic Community in Australia and in U.K. I have come to know our Communities there very well and sympathise with their aspirations. I have tried to combine this experience with that of other members of the Organising Committee, most of whom have either lived for a considerable number of years abroad, or have had very close links with our Communities overseas, to achieve the desired success at this Convention.
A sincere expression of gratitude is due to all members of my Committee for their commitment and dedication to their task, particularly Mgr. Philip Calleja Director of the Emigrants Commission, and the Secretary Mr Victor Pace. I thank the U.N.D.P. for sponsoring the air travel of a great number of participants, Bank of Valletta for sponsoring the Exhibition “Our Shared Heritage” from Mackay Australia, and Air Malta the Official Carrier.
Together with my Committee, and on behalf of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Emigrants Commission I extend a warm welcome to all the Keynote speakers, speakers, delegates and participants of this Convention. We wish you well in your deliberations and sincerely trust that the views expressed and the recommendations to be made at the Convention will have a positive and lasting effect on the Maltese Diaspora for a very long time to come.
The Organising Committee and I also wish to express our sincere appreciation to H. E. the President Prof Guido de Marco and to His Grace the Archbishop Mgr. Mercieca for their support and for honouring us with their Patronage of the Convention.