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World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Malta : Overview

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 2007
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Malta : Overview, 2007, available at: [accessed 6 October 2015]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


The islands of Malta (Malta, Gozo and Comino) lie in the central Mediterranean with Italy to the north and Libya to the south.


Main languages: Malti, English

Main religion: Roman Catholicism

About 95 per cent of the islanders are Maltese-born; the remaining inhabitants are mostly of English or Italian descent. The Maltese language, Malti, is the medium of everyday conversation. Maltese and English are the official languages.

There are small English-speaking and Arabic-speaking minorities. While the first are settled and often have links with the armed forces, the latter tend to stay only a few years. They are mostly professionals and traders. The number of asylum-seekers has risen strongly since 2004. There were 10,358 foreign residents out of the total population of 386,938 in 2002. (data: National Statistics Office)

The Maltese diaspora, which numbers as many as the islands' population, live in mainly English-speaking countries and speak Maltese. Maltese is a Semitic language, thought to have derived from the vernacular Arabic of North Africa. The vocabulary, phonology and syntax are influenced by Italian, Spanish, French and English. Standard Maltese is used in religious and cultural activities, in national affairs, the media and local politics, education and literature. Local Maltese dialects used extensively in informal contexts.


Malta had a well developed Neolithic temple culture as early as 3600 BC. The islands were occupied by Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans and Byzantines. North African Arabs ruled from 870 to 1090 AD when they were ousted by the Normans. Other rulers included the Angevins, Catalan/ Aragones, Castilians and Sicilians. In 1530 Malta was ceded to the Order of St John (Knights Templar). Italian influence remained strong. It was occupied by the French in the Napoleonic Wars and given to the British in 1814 on condition that the Roman Catholic Church was maintained and the Maltese Declaration of Rights was honoured. It was granted a devolved government in 1921 and became independent in 1964.


The 1964 constitution provides protection from discrimination on the grounds of race, origin, political views, colour, creed and sex. The 1987 European Convention Act is the Maltese law implementing the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. Specific legislation enacted to implement the EU directives for equal racial treatment and equal treatment in employment includes the 2000 Equal Opportunities (Persons with Disability) Act, the 2002 Employment and Industrial Relations Act (relating to the private sector), the 2003 Equality for Men and Women Act, and the 2004 legal notice regarding discrimination against religion or religious belief, disability, age, sexual orientation, racial and ethnic origin in employment (this was missing from the Employment and Industrial Relations Act).

It is planned that the Commission for the Promotion of Equality between Men and Women will be expanded to encompass the wider range of equal treatment. The burden of proof of discrimination remains with the complainant.

In 1994 the Maltese Language Board was set up to promote the language. When Malta joined the European Union in 2004, Maltese became an official EU language, but the range of technical words was insufficient for all EU documents to be translated into Maltese. The 2004 Maltese Language Act aims to overcome this.

Current state of minorities and indigenous peoples

Education is bilingual in Maltese and English, with Maltese used for social subjects, such as history, and English for career-oriented subjects, such as maths, technology and business studies. There are relatively few Maltese textbooks. Maltese is less used in the later years of secondary education and English predominates in higher education. However, Maltese is offered at all levels of education.

There is a school for the Arabic-speaking community, which offers 12 years of schooling. The Islamic Cultural Centre provides Arabic lessons on Saturdays and religious lessons to Islamic children attending Maltese schools. The Centre has a kindergarten and provides Arabic evening courses for non-Arabic-speakers.

Two daily newspapers, five weeklies and three magazines are published only in Maltese. The 10 radio stations and four main TV stations broadcast mainly in Maltese. Maltese TV productions include sitcoms, comedies and variety programmes. Children's books, novels and religious books are published in Maltese. Plays, subsidised by the government, are decreasing in popularity.

The accession of Malta to the EU in 2004 has strengthened the present and future role of Maltese. The relative lack of technical words has held the language back as a medium for higher education and business, but this problem is now being addressed. Maltese and English are required for jobs but English takes precedence. The use of Maltese in advertising is increasing. However, consumer information is almost entirely in English, sometimes in Italian, rarely in Maltese.

A 2004 study showed that 90 per cent of the population use Maltese in the family and 70 per cent at work, while English is used by 14 per cent and 29 per cent respectively.

Dialects developed in isolated communities and modern dialect speakers are usually considered uncultured. But in older towns and villages, dialect is spoken extensively and sometimes in order to exclude 'foreigners'.

Since 2002 there has been a rise in racism and extreme-right politics fuelled by fears of the impact of asylum seekers, whose numbers increased dramatically from 24 in 2000 to 1,686 in 2002. Asylum seekers are kept in five detention centres which do not meet international minimum standards, according to the Jesuit Refugee Service. In 2004 an extreme right candidate in the European Parliament elections polled over 1,600 votes, an unprecedented situation in Maltese politics. There have also been acts of racist violence and discrimination. Muslims are especially vulnerable, despite the long peaceful history of the Islamic community.

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