Over-population and the dangers of quoting unreliable sources

Over the last few weeks, every time someone mentioned over-population I kept seeing the same bizarre numbers being thrown around: 400,000 Maltese, 450,000 Foreigners

Over the last few weeks, every time someone mentioned over-population I kept seeing the same bizarre numbers being thrown around:

  • 400,000 Maltese
  • 450,000 Foreigners

It didn’t take long to figure out (after a quick scroll through the usual suspects on Facebook) where this misinformation was coming from. The danger of such statistics, which have been plucked out of thin air and which started doing the rounds, is that they end up being shared so many times that they are now being repeated, with complete confidence, as undisputed facts.

As far as I know, the only way to determine a country’s population is to carry out a census, and the last one was held in Malta in November 2021. As explained in the introduction of the final report by the National Statistics Office: “The Census of Population and Housing is a detailed statistical exercise featuring Malta and its people by their demographic and social characteristics. It provides a portrait at a point in time…”

It is true that this census captures the situation of a year and nine months ago when we were still not fully out of the pandemic. However, it should be obvious to anyone who is level-headed that the computation of data collected from the nation’s households takes a long time and so does the subsequent analysis; in fact, the final report was published in February of this year.

The constant ebb and flow of economic migrants means the scenario will probably have changed since Census Day… although so many come here and leave very quickly that it is also just as likely that it has not changed that much. It is interesting to note that data presented in June of this year in parliament in answer to a PQ shows that over 48,000 foreign workers employed in Malta between 2013 and 2023 spent just 12 months in employment, before leaving the island for new pastures.

Ultimately, however, despite what any self-styled expert might think, a census is the only scientific way in which we can establish how Malta’s demographics are changing. So here are the facts, according to this census: “The final usual resident population in Malta stood at 519,562, more than doubling over a century, and growing by more than 100,000 over the past 10 years. More than one in five residents were foreign, with 115,449 non-Maltese persons residing in Malta on Census Day – an increase of more than five times in the share of foreigners since 2011.”

Social media can play a pivotal role in the dissemination of accurate information, but in the wrong hands it can be very damaging and a potential reckless disruptor... so when I start seeing fictitious figures being quoted without any official source to back them up, it makes me wonder what the end game is.

Is someone trying to deliberately stir things up (even more than they already are) so that the anti-foreigner sentiment will continue to swell until it reaches boiling point? Or is it just a sensationalist attempt to get likes and shares, for the thrill of being validated and in the limelight, even if this means that there might be real casualties by some hotheads as a result?

It is bad enough that the hostility and resentment is already very palpable. Anyone who is not Maltese, but very specifically those who are Third Country Nationals (TCNs) are blamed on a daily basis for all the country’s ills. They are the focal point, the inevitable target of everything which pisses people off. So, when someone comes along and starts spouting figures out of their backside, it is not only unethical, it is downright dangerous.

When I have questioned, and disputed the hyperbole of the “450k foreigners” number, there have been people who tell me “well, that is what it feels like”. First of all, if we have really reached a population of over 800k as is being wrongly claimed, we probably would not even be able to leave our homes with the throngs of people milling around. I really don’t think many realise what that kind of population would actually look like in reality.

As for “what it feels like” we have to remember that (a) we are at the height of the tourist season which naturally brings with it an increased (seasonal) spike and (b) with summer holidays for teachers and students and government offices on half days, people are out and about more than they are in winter so it stands to reason that everywhere you go is crowded.

Now, let me come to the crunch, and to be blunter; it is clear that the “what it feels like” argument is mostly reserved in reference to TCNs.

“It feels like we are in Mum-bai/Pakistan/Nepal,” is a phrase I keep hearing and reading over and over… and it is not meant in a good way. Anyone reading this will agree that most Maltese people do not even bother to camouflage their bigotry and racism; they think nothing of speaking quite openly and disparagingly about TCNs (much to the shock of those who are not used to such political incorrectness). I honestly think that Indians and South Asians have now become more looked down on than African refugees used to be (maybe because many of the latter are hard at work on construction sites where so many have vested financial interests).

Interestingly enough, the same disdain is not usually directed at those from the Philippines, probably because they are in the much-needed caring professions… although the throwaway comment “I am looking for a Filipina” does set my teeth on edge because it smacks so much of white privilege and entitlement. I immediately start getting visions of cotton plantations and slaves.

But, back to the specific TCNs who are the target of so many nasty, sneering moments. It is really shameful and embarrassing to hear people badmouth them so cruelly.

We all know that these desperate people have been brought here from poor countries with the promise of employment by this administration’s economic model and enticed by ruthless agencies.

And if there were no (low-pay-ing) jobs to be had, they would not have been given a visa. So, next time you feel like letting rip at Bolt couriers (even as you order your takeaway) or snarling at cab drivers (even as you book a ride on your app), or swearing at the sight of all the other underpaid workers waiting patiently for the bus in the scorching heat (because seeing them makes you see red, even as you drive by in your air-conditioned car), stop and consider why they are here in the first place.

Yes, I agree that there needs to be a cut-off point for how many people can come and work in a country which is so small, and the sooner this government acknowledges this and takes action, the better. I can also understand the jittery nervousness of those who believe that “we will soon be outnumbered.”

However, the anger I see everywhere against “these” foreigners is anger which is completely misplaced because it is not being directed at the right culprits. Much like it is important to verify a reliable source when quoting statistics, it is equally essential to point fingers at the actual root of the problem when it comes to over-population.