5.3Ageing of Maltese Migrants in Australia
One curious statistical phenomenon highlighted recently in a number of publications is the fact that there are quite significant variations in the rate of ageing of ethnic populations in a host country. This does not imply some biological aberration resident in ethnic genes, or some other quirk or custom which they bring with them like festas and pizzas. It is mainly a statistical aberration, with, however, considerable social implications. When we say that the Maltese in Australia are one of the fastest ageing ethnic group this is merely one way of looking at a population at a specific time useful only for comparative purposes.
The rate of ageing depends on a number of factors, including not only the number of persons in the older age group, but also the number of younger members of the specific community. This latter component is affected by two quite separate factors: firstly the fact that very few Maltese are emigrating to Australia has reduced considerably the number of the Maltese-born who are under 55 years of age - only 102 Maltese migrated to Australia in 1990-1991. The second factor affecting the formula is the fact that all infants born in Australia are classified as Australians and therefore are not available for statistical purposes.
Consider these facts: The median age of Maltese-born in Australia is over 40 years, compared with that of the Australian-born, which is around 27 years. The proportion of Maltese-born over the age of 55 years was 21% and is expected to increase to over 30% by the year 2000.
These facts have been emphasised in two studies. The first survey was carried out by the Maltese Community Council of Victoria in 1987 and the findings were summarised in "Maltese Migrants in Australia", (M. N Cauchi, 1990). This study covers the needs of ageing migrants in Victoria. The second more recent survey was carried out by Lawrence Dimech and covers the needs of Maltese ageing migrants in New South Wales and Sydney in particular.
Both these studies show that Maltese migrants face problems, which are not adequately met with by the current mainstream facilities, provided by the various governmental instrument-alities. These include:
- Isolation, particularly after the death of a spouse. As women tend to live longer, this problem affects them to a greater extent.
- Lack of appropriate, culturally suitable accom-modation for aged persons.
- Inadequate utilisation of facilities provided, partly from ignorance of the fact that they even exist.
- Health problems: 79% of those interviewed in Dimech's survey admitted to a health problem, particularly arthritis, diabetes, problems with vision or hearing, etc. A Maltese-speaking doctor was available to only 10% of them.
- Limited command of English Language. Nearly 50% of those interviewed claimed that their command of English language was not good.
- Recreation. Most elderly persons rely on television and radio for their entertainment as well as contact with the outside world. In this respect, the limited command of English language combined with a marked lack of TV programs in Maltese are obvious limiting factors. Reliance on Maltese-language radio becomes of considerable significance.
What are the needs of a population, which has all but cut its ties with the mother country, and has not fully integrated into the receiving society. These have been summarised often enough (see Cauchi, 1990). They include:
- The provision of linguistically appropriates services. Particularly noticeable is the lack of professional people who can communicate in Maltese.
- The provision of culturally appropriate services. In many instances, services provided are seen as foreign and unacceptable.
- The provision of information targeted to the ethnic aged in order to penetrate into the isolation in which many find themselves.
- The provision of appropriates training of personnel and co-ordination of services for ethnic aged. There is also a need for data collection and review.
For many years neither the parent nor the host government felt responsible for the provision of specific services for migrants, aged or otherwise. The assimilationist views of the 1950s led to a calculated neglect. But even more recently, while the thinking has changed fundamentally towards a more multicultural approach, services provided, particularly for old people, are still inadequate. As a social worker at the Maltese Community Council put it "Current aged services cannot adequately cater for the needs of the ethnic aged since they are characteristically mono-lingual and mono-cultural in nature (Eynaud & Summers 1984). Unfortunately, in the current economically depressed climate it is most unlikely that such services would be increased or improved.
Parent counties likewise have responsibilities. Many parent countries, including Germany, Italy, Greece etc., have accepted these responsibilities and provided services, including cultural, educational, linguistic as well as social services, and in general kept in reasonable contact with their former citizens. We cannot say that Malta belongs to this group of countries.
One need not be reminded that most of the migrants, particularly those of the 'gold-rush' period of the 1950s and 60s, were hardly adequately prepared for their future life in a foreign country. This is the single factor that has been most significant in affecting adversely the Maltese migrant life chances overseas. In particular, attitudinal aspects take generations to be overcome, and are likely to affect not only the present but also future generations. Recent studies on expectations and achievements of second generation Maltese in Melbourne carried out by the Victoria University (Melbourne) in conjunction with the Maltese Community Council of Victoria lend substance to this worry (see Terry et al 1993).
One must not forget that those who have now reached their retirement years were those who were most prominent in providing not only for their young family overseas, but also for their extended family still living in poverty in Malta. Untold millions of dollars found their way to these Islands, precisely at a time when they were most needed - money which would have been more useful to the migrants themselves had they invested in a superannuation scheme as an insurance for their old age. Let us not now forget them who may at this time require our assistance.
To be sure, some enlightened legislation in recent years has made a considerable difference to the rights of returned migrants, particularly ageing migrants, relating to pension portability, citizenship and health services. This legislation was meant to ensure that the migrant returning to Malta was treated with the dignity and respect which a citizen deserves. What the prospective returning migrant is not aware of is the veritable minefield of red tape, delays and inefficiencies in the provision of services. It is absolutely imperative that no effort be spared to ensure that this bureaucratic nightmare is faced and the system brought in line with the 1990s.
Cauchi M.N. 1990: Maltese Migrants in Australia, Maltese Community Council of Victoria, 1990.
Dimech L. 1992: The Ageing Maltese - a minefield of need & neglect" .
Eynaud J, Sumers V, 1984: An Investigation into the needs of non-institutionalized Maltese-born Aged Persons, and the Attitudes in Servicing their needs by their Carers and Service Providers located in Melbourne's Western Region. Maltese Community Council Research Paper, Melbourne.
Terry L., Borland H, Adams R.1993: "To Learn More than I Have…" A Report for the Maltese Community Council of Victoria, Melbourne.
[From: Sunday Times, Jan 24,1993, p 37]
Source: Maurice N.Cauchi - The Maltese Migrant Experience, Malta 1999