Individual Cases of Hardship
Emmanuel Xuereb, 29 years old, was the first migrant to make his statement. He had left Malta on December 18, 1919, with the intention of settling in Canada. He arrived at Naples and embarked for New York on the, Italian vessel s.s. "Regina d'ltalia". Xuereb had previously served with the Royal Malta Artillery, was able to read and write and was a telegraphist by profession. Once he arrived in New York he was detained for three days on board his ship and was eventually allowed to disembark on Ellis Island where he was detained for a further period of two days. Subsequently Xuereb was transferred to another Italian ship, the s.s. "Pesaro" where he was kept in close confinement and under guard for another three days. No explanation was ever given for this treatment and he was never allowed to contact the British consul. Eventually Xuereb was sent back to ltq.1y, his passage being paid by the Italian shipping company which had brought him from Naples to New York. Xuereb had to pay for the rest of his voyage from Naples to Malta.
Spiridione Degiorgio, 23 years of age, left Malta for Naples on November 29, 1919. He crossed the Atlantic on the ship which was to bring Xuereb back to Europe. Degiorgio had a brother in Toronto who had gone down to New York to meet his brother Spiridione. Degiorgio described himself as literate, had had a small business in Malta and was an assistant fitter by trade. On landing in New York Degiorgio was sent to Ellis Island where he was kept for a full month. He lived in a large room with 500 other detainees who were kept under strict surveillance. Degiorgio also claimed that in the ground floor of the same block where he was being kept, there were a number of suspected Bolsheviks who were being kept there.
Degiorgio stated that during his detention he was never allowed to take any exercise. His own brother made many attempts to have him released from Ellis Island. The brother contacted the British consul and showed the consul that his brother's papers were all in order. The consul disclaimed all responsibility by saying that immigration was completely out of his jurisdiction. On January 24, 1920, Degiorgio was placed on the same ship which had brought him to New York and sent back to Naples. Again, Degiorgio had to pay his fare from Naples to Malta.
The deportation of G.B. Farrugia was even more pathetic. Farrugia was 40 years old and he had left Malta with his friend Emmanuel Xuereb. Farrugia was illiterate, but he was returning to Canada where he had lived in Brentford for seven years. He was a mechanic by trade. During the War he had volunteered to go to the front. He had left Canada to be at the bedside of his dying mother. While in Malta he had sent his wife and children to Canada to settle in Brentford. Farrugia was going back to Brentford on a Canadian passport, but his passport did not prevent his deportation. When he eventually got back to Malta his wife and children were on their way to Brentford.
The fourth statement was that of Victor Attard who was only fifteen. Victor was an orphan and had been adopted when he was a child by Francesco and Maria Cauchi. Francesco had been living in Toronto since 1916 and Victor, accompanied by Maria, left Malta to join Francesco. Victor and Maria travelled on the same day as Emmanuel Xuereb and G.B. Farrugia did.
On arriving in New York Victor and Maria were transferred to Ellis Eland where they received the same treatment as Xuereb and Farrugia. Maria protested that she was joining her husband and that Victor was their adopted child. She was not believed and was told that she and Victor could not continue their journey to Toronto. They were sent back to Malta.
Like Victor, Joseph Galea was of the same age. He too was on his way to join his father who was then living in Toronto. When Joseph's father failed to meet his son in New York, he feared that his son had been lost in New York. Instead, Joseph was being detained on Ellis Island and he had asked to contact his father but his wish had been denied. Neither was he allowed to contact the British consul. One concession made to the lad was that he was allowed to take a short walk.
All these statements were signed by those who made them. They also declared that they had all been passed by the Maltese Emigration authorities. The Canadian Agent on Ellis Island sent his reply to Lord Plumer in a letter which bore the date ofjune 11, 1920.
The Canadian Agent said that Emmanuel Xuereb had described himself as a photographer and when he disembarked on Ellis Island he had only 51 dollars on him. Xuereb claimed that he was going to his friend, a certain Giuseppe Galea. The Canadian Agent did not think that Xuereb had enough money on him to start a photographic business on his own and since he had no close relatives in Canada, the Agent decided that if Xuereb were allowed to proceed to Canada he would be a charge on the State.
Spiridione Degiorgio claimed that he was a machinist. He had only 40 dollars on him and was unable to provide an address of someone known to him in Toronto. The Canadian Agent thought that Degiorgio looked poorly. He had spent three days in Ellis Island Hospital.
G.B. Farrugia described himself as a labourer. According to the Canadian Agent, Farrugia had presented no evidence to prove that he had left Canada for the purpose of a visit, nor had he expressed his intention of returning to Brentford with his family. Farrugia's family had arrived in the port of New York on January 29, 1920, on the s.s. "Giuseppe Verdi". Farrugia had been sent to Malta two days before his family arrived.
The saga of the Farrugia family did have a positive finale. The husband was back in Canada on May 14, 1920, having arrived on the s.s. "Royal George". The wife and four children were allowed to enter Canada and settle in Brentford once they got medical clearance.
As for Victor Attard, Maria Cauchi and Joseph Galea, the Canadian Agent said that their case was unfortunate and what happened was more due to misunderstanding than to a severe application of the law. The Canadian Agent said that they should have lodged an appeal and he was sure that they would have received a more considerate hearing. The Canadian Agent did say that Maria and Victor had onlv 50 dollars between them. They also failed to produce any real evidence to show the actual existence of Francesco Cauchi at Toronto or his ability and willingness to support them. Nor did Maria produce any legal document to prove that Victor had been legally adopted. However the Agent did admit that Maria had shown him her husband's address which was 48, Nelson Street, Toronto.
The Canadian Agent on Ellis Island also complained to Lord Plumer that none of the Maltese emigrants carried tickets which showed their final destination in Canada. He claimed that such an omission on the part of the migrants rendered them ineligible for admission into Canada under the provisions of the Privy Council Order number twenty-three.
The Canadian Agent also said at the time the two groups of Maltese had arrived on Ellis Island, conditions of labour in Canada were difficult and unemployment was serious. Such a critical situation merited reliable guarantees that those who entered Canada had sufficient support promised to them by persons already legally resident in Canada. The Agent claimed that in the majority of cases the passengers were going to persons in Canada who were not legally bound to assist them should such a need arise.
It was also stated that the money carried by the Maltese was not substantial and was not enough for them when they came to pay for travel, accommodation, clothing and food. The Canadian authorities felt that the Maltese were likely to become public-charges and this justified their exclusion.
As to the treatment given to the Maltese during their detention on Ellis Island, the Canadian Agent said that no one of those in question took advantage of his right to protest. There was no record to show that anyone had put a request in writing to see the British consul in New York. However, the Canadian Agent did point out that appeals concerning immigration rested only with the Department of Immigration and Colonisation at Ottawa.
It was also pointed out that it was common custom to put all excluded immigrants under guard both on Ellis Island and on board the ship which had carried them across the Atlantic. As for congestion on Ellis Island the Canadian Agent said that the Americans did not run that place on the lines of a luxury hotel. It was not possible to give each person a room for himself. As for sending telegrams, it was stated that on the island there were two offices run by their respective telegraph companies and that any of the detained passengers could have made a request to use such facilities.
From the report sent to Lord Plumer by the Canadian Agent on Ellis Island it was possible to deduce that in 1920 the Maltese authorities were not fully familiar with the stringent conditions governing the entry of foreigners into Canadian territory. Much pain could have been avoided if the men in the Emigration Department knew not only the rules but also their mode of application. If the Maltese had a representative in New York he could have handled all cases not only of those immigrants who sought entry into the U.S.A. but also those who intended to go further north to Canada. Such a representative could have himself lodged appeals on behalf of the Maltese and made sure that their requests were formally accepted in writing.
On April 29, 1920, the secretary of the Department of Immigration and Colonisation in Ottawa issued a statement under the signature of Mr. F.C. Blair, concerning the immigration of Maltese. The statement said:
"I think the present attitude of the Department towards immigration from Malta should not be changed. Owing to conditions in Canada and the class of labour supplied by Malta, it is not advisable to encourage immigration from that Colony. Malta supplies practically nothing but skilled and common labour. We can never hope to get any amount of agricultural labour from Malta. The immigrants to Canada from Malta of the past decade have settled almost entirely in our cities.
It would he unfortunate if the people of Malta should conclude that they are excluded from Canada solely on the ground that they are Maltese. This, of course, would be incorrect. While we do not encourage, we do not exclude those who comply fully with the Immigration Regulations in effect at the time of arrival. A few Maltese are still coming to Canada and are being admitted, but while conditions remain as at present, and while plenty of skilled workers to meet any existing demand in Canada can be secured from th -e Mother Country, it would be unwise to change our policy with regard to immigration from Malta".
Canadian indifference to Malta was an embarrassment to the Colonial administration in Malta. After the riots of June 7, 1919, Lord Plumer was trying to create a more positive picture of the British Empire and of the supposedly enormous advantage which the Maltese were to reap because they belonged to an Empire of which Canada was one of the most prominent members. Lord Plumer was trying hard to refute the accusation made by anti-British politicians in Malta that the governments of Canada and Australia did not consider the Maltese as desirable immigrants.
Lord Plumer contacted the High Commissioner for Canada in London, Mr. H.J. Read. He wrote to him a letter which bore the date of January 5, 1920. The Governor enquired whether the objections to immigrants from Malta extended equally to all parts of Canada or whether they were limited to particular places such as Toronto. Lord Plumer was asking frankly if the Maltese were specifically singled out as an undesirable group. He also asked Mr. Read if the objections against the Maltese were of temporary or permanent nature.
Mr. Read answered Lord Plumer on February 27, 1920. The Canadian High Commissioner claimed that the Maltese were not singled out for any special restrictions. Read claimed that those Maltese who complied fully with the regulations set down by the Department of Immigration and Colonisation would be admitted even if the present labour conditions in Canada did not encourage the arrival in the country of skilled and unskilled immigrants. Read wrote that the majority of Maltese who entered Canada were unskilled and did not seem to be willing to accept employment outside the cities. Canada, according to the High Commissioner, was discouraging similar immigration from other countries.
On February 28, Lord Plumer received a further note concerning the objections to the entry of Maltese in Canada. The note came directly from Ottawa. The note said: "In further reference to the matter of Maltese immigrants, it is not intended to put up any absolute barrier against the Maltese nor yet has this been done. Some months ago, however, complaints were received of Maltese arriving in Toronto and other parts unable to find employment, and the investigation which was made showed that in most cases these had travelled via an American port and had not been examined carefully to see that they complied with Canadian law at the port of arrival. In the interest, therefore, of the Maltese, as well as for the protection of the country, we had to take steps to curtail the movement as quickly as possible. It is always to be understood that any person who complies fully with the regulations, will be admitted no matter how much the Government may discourage the immigration of certain classes".
Source: The Great Exodus by Fr Lawrence E. Attard. (C) P.E.G. Ltd - 1989.