The Malta-EU Steering and Action Committee (MEUSAC) and the Australian High Commission in Malta yesterday organised a seminar entitled “Multiculturalism: Myth or Reality?“. Introducing the event, MEUSAC Head, Vanni Xuereb spoke of the collaboration that exists between MEUSAC and the foreign diplomatic missions in Malta. He added that the seminar marks a first in the sense that it is the first time that MEUSAC is collaborating with a non-EU and non-European diplomatic representation.
The Australian High Commissioner, H.E Ms Anne Quinane, spoke of Australia’s society as being highly multicultural with more than 260 languages and a wide spectrum of migrants finding refuge in her country. She said that Australia is built on migration flows over hundreds of years and its experience can be beneficial to countries like Malta that are newcomers to this phenomenon.
The opening speech was delivered by the Hon. Jennifer Rankine, Minister for Multicultural Affairs of South Australia who referred to the constant evolution of multiculturalism as ‘a reality’. She added that there is no alternative to multiculturalism and insisted that societies must respect new persons in their midst who seek to maintain their own language and culture. Despite the influx of new settlers and the challenges they bring to the ‘host’ country, 90% of Australians consider that multiculturalism is a positive concept. Minister Rankine concluded by stating that multiculturalism yields more knowledge, skills and the right attitude to tackle globalisation.
Mr Lawrence Dimech, a Maltese-Australian who, last January, was appointed People of Australia Ambassador by Prime Minister Julia Gillard, related his experience as a Maltese migrant in Australia and shared his views on multiculturalism. Multiculturalism, he said, is not easy to comprehend and described it as ‘the doctrine that several different cultures can co-exist peacefully and equitably in a single country’. He said that since 1945, 7 million people have migrated to Australia and that today, 44% of all Australians were born overseas or had at least one overseas- born parent. Mr Dimech added that migrants seeking work tend to be absorbed into employment relatively quickly, with the unemployment rate for migrants equalling that of the Australian-born at just over 5% in 2012. Among the challenges ahead, Mr Dimech mentioned the increase in the diversity of the Australian population especially due to the influx of new migrants and refugees of different cultures and faiths.
The presentations were followed by a panel discussion moderated by Dr Neil Falzon, director of Aditus Foundation, which focused on the challenges and opportunities of multicultural integration in the EU. The members of the panel were Ranier Fsadni (lecturer in Anthropological Sciences at the University of Malta), Andrea Dibben (member of the National Commission for the Promotion of Equality), Maria Pisani (Director, Integra Foundation) and Dr Colm Regan (an NGO activist). Various points were raised during the discussion such as EU policies related to multiculturalism, the perception of Islam in the EU, equal access to services for third country nationals, and interculturalism.
The closing speech was delivered by Mr Frans Borg, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry for Justice, Dialogue and the Family on behalf of Minister Chris Said. He spoke of the importance of an open exchange between individuals and groups in the European Union. He also referred to the European Year for Intercultural Dialogue 2008 and the European Commission’s agenda related to the integration of third country nationals that was launched in 2011. Mr Borg added that the EU also provides financial assistance to promote inclusion and multiculturalism within its Member States.
At the end of the seminar, the representative offices of the European Commission and the European Parliament, together with MEUSAC and a number of NGOs, participated in a market place where they presented their initiatives and disseminated information related to the theme of the seminar.