First Session - Maltese Connections Overseas

History of Emigration

The renowned historian Fr Lawrence E. Attard delivered the Keynote address in which he traced the history of Maltese migration. He said that up to 1798, Malta was a prosperous state under the Sovereign Military Order of St John and work in the construction industry or in the Order's Navy was abundant. However, the arrival of Napoleon in 1798 changed everything and within the space of two years, the Maltese islands became mere dots in a vast Empire ruled by the Colonial Office in distant London.

The first large-scale migrations were to North Africa in the early 19th century when the French expansion in what would later be known as Algeria and Tunisia gave an opportunity for Europeans to settle and work hard.

The Maltese also left in their thousands and by 1900 their community in Algeria numbered 15,000 while that in Tunisia was of around 7,000.Even greater was the presence of the Maltese community in Egypt. At one time, when the Suez Canal was opened in the 19th century, it reached 20,000. All these communities were however forced to leave by the subsequent Islamic rulers of these countries, and they ended up in the United Kingdom and France. At about the same time, more intrepid Maltese settlers ventured into more distant lands.

Apart from two abortive attempts at Maltese settlement in Brazil and Argentina in the 1920s and after the Second World War, migration to South America was almost non-existent. Some Maltese had arrived in Canada and the US during the 19th century but it was only in the post-war years that migrants started to pour in by the thousand. The same could be said of Australia, when the floodgates of migration were opened after the 1948 Passage Assistance Agreement by which Maltese could travel to Australia for just úl0. Between 1946 and 1974, over 137,000 left Malta but the trend then underwent a rapid decline and came to a virtual stop by the 1990s.

Other delegate speakers delivered their speeches in turn, on the history of emigration and the present situation that related to their individual country or state.

These were:

Mr Mark Caruana


Mr Richard Cumbo


Mr Bernard Scerri

U. K.

Mr Larry Zahra


Mr Ivan Magri Overend

Maltese of Egypt

Mr Jean Pierre Zammit

Maltese of Tunes

Mr Pierre Dimech

Maltese of Algeria

Ms Rose Godfrey

New Zealand

Mr Alfred Flask


These sessions included the following subjects:

  • Preservation of Maltese Culture and Language
  • The Elderly and Services available to them
  • Youths and their Achievements
  • Citizenship and Bilateral Agreements.
  • The Maltese Migrant and Religion

Source: 'Malta' - Maltese Culture Movement, Issues 4,5,6, 2000.

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