Credit: “M” Magazine Malta / by Sandy Calleja Portelli (December 2012, issue 38)
For centuries, foreigners have landed on our shores looking to build a new life. Whether they arrived here by choice or chance, their presence impacts our community in ways we seldom stop to ponder.
As a nation, we pride ourselves on being hospitable, which means foreigners must find it easy to settle down in Malta – but do they?
“Living in Germany was a positive experience but coming to Malta was completely different – I felt at home as soon as I landed. The fact that English is so widely spoken here makes it easy to settle down – moreover, people are very friendly.
“The more I came to know Malta, the more I realised that there are many similarities between the Maltese and Pakistani people. The social and legal structures are very different of course, but I find that morally the people are very similar. The ethics of friendliness, generosity, and care for one’s neighbours are the same in both countries and this makes me feel very welcome.”
Atif’s first task on arriving here was to acquaint himself with the island and learn Maltese. Five years on, he speaks and writes Maltese fluently, an accomplishment he is justifiably proud of.
Atif and his wife – who joined him here 18 months after his arrival – have made a lot of Maltese friends. “We have more Maltese friends than from Asia or Pakistan,” they say.
The couple has two children – their son Nauman is the eldest and has just started primary school while two-year-old Muskan will start kindergarten in a couple of years.
“My wife and I want our children to grow up here feeling that this is their home. At the moment they only know Malta and we tell them that this is our country and that we have a duty to serve this country and its people.”
Pakistan is slightly more than a quick flight away and I wonder what Atif and his wife miss from home.
“We can freely follow our beliefs and culture unhindered but, apart from our families, we miss being home during Ramadan. Back home, Ramadan is shared by the whole community whereas here, of course, it is not and we miss the atmosphere at that time of year. Life is not without its sacrifices and when I dedicated my life to the community, I knew I would have to make sacrifices.”
“An important point about integration is that I believe that each party – both migrant and host country – should consider their responsibility and obligation before their rights. Migrants who come here should respect the laws, people, religion and customs of the country that has welcomed them, while seeking to give a valid contribution to society. The host nation, on the other hand, should respect the migrant’s religion, customs, positive behaviour and contribution. Such mutual respect and cooperation improves both the economy and security of the country.”