As I write these introductory words I feel a sense of relief. I thought of writing a history of Maltese migration in the twentieth century way back in 1980. My plan was to publish three books to cover the period in question. In 1983 my first book appeared which dealt with the first fourteen years of the century. It was followed by the second book which dealt with the years between the two world wars. For the last six years I have been researching for this present publication which deals with emigration from the Maltese islands from the end of the Second World War.
There were times when I thought that the task much for me, but I was encouraged by the support of those interested in my subject both in Malta and overseas. Emigration on a large scale has been a feature of Maltese life since the early years nineteenth century, but when the mad fury Second World War finally abated organised and subsidised emigration became a basic policy who ruled the Maltese from 1945 to the years of the 1970's.
The people of Malta were told that emigration the only solution to the problem of overpopulation and unemployment. The choice of the Maltese in l945 was not very different from that which faced them in 1918. They had either to emigrate or else face stark economic hardship. In the words of those who held power in their hands emigration was hailed as the Safety Valve of the nation. Intensive propaganda was carried out to the squares of every town and village so much so that many had the impression that to solve their problems all they had to do was to pack their belongings and leave.
The effort to convince those who were either unemployed or else had poorly paid jobs soon produced its desired effects. From 1945 to 1979 almost 140,000 men, women and children left the land of their birth with a population that averaged about 300,000.
While Colonial and Maltese administrations did all they could to relieve Malta of some of its best inhabitants, they did not seriously consider the long term effects that such a haemorrhage would have on the future development of Maltese society. The Safety Valve certainly worked for a number of years, but the human suffering brought about by a policy of sustained emigration never features in the statistics published by the Department of Emigration.
The main receiving countries from 1945 were Australia, Great Britain, Canada and the USA. Migrants to Australia by far surpassed those who chose to emigrate to other countries. They also tended to settle permanently and the rate of returnees was relatively low. On the other hand migrants to Canada and particularly those who went to the United Kingdom, tended to go back home in considerable numbers. The restrictive policy of the US Government hindered the development of the Maltese emigratory movement on any appreciable scale. However it must be stated that Maltese settlements in the English-speaking countries were largely characterised by their permanency. The process of uprooting oneself in order to start life again in an alien environment was distinctively painful and difficult, but for the majority of Maltese migrants it was also a successful one.
Unfortunately the fate of the Maltese colonies in Arab and Muslim lands bordering the Mediterranean Sea was very different. These were the oldest colonies, and indeed for a long time, the most populous. But the radical changes brought about by the Second World War and the rise of nationalism sealed their fate. That fate was the practical annihilation of the Maltese presence in those countries.
This book deals with the development of Maltese emigration to the major receiving countries. It also examines the decline of the Maltese presence along the Mediterranean littoral. The social and economic impact of emigration is also considered. The final chapter deals with the decline of emigration and the emergence of modern Malta as a small and dynamic nation determined to look after its own people rather than preferring to see them go to other places.
I have been working with the Emigrants Commission since 1969. It was the Emigrants Commission that brought me in close contact with intending emigrants at a time when emigration was a topic on most people's minds. Since 1972 I have been a coordinator for the programme Migrants Magazine on Radio Malta. It was because of this programme that I was introduced to many migrants when I interviewed them. I am also the editor of the periodical Lil Hutna which since 1950 has been a major source of information on Maltese emigrants spread throughout the world. Because of my commitments I was able to visit many Maltese communities abroad, live with them and write about them. Slowly the idea emerged that I should put the knowledge I had gathered into book form. The result has been my three books on the history of Maltese migration.
The major sources of this book are revealed in the notes. There have been some people who have been a great help to me. I wish to thank J. F. Crawford for providing me with photocopies of various documents relevant to the Maltese in Canada. I am also indebted to V. Wickman for allowing me to share some of the photographs he has in his collection of migrant ships and information about them. The Department of Statistics has been helpful in making available statistics about the flow of our emigrants.
Interest in Maltese emigration is bound to increase among scholars now that actual emigration has come to an end. I feel I have done my share in contributing to the knowledge of this particular aspect of Maltese history where the real protagonists are the ordinary men, women and children who have been touched by the emigratory movement-during all those tortuous years.
Fr Lawrence E. Attard
Source: The Safety Valve (1997), author Fr Lawrence E. Attard, Publishers Enterprises Group (PEG) Ltd, ISBN 99909-0-081-7