Republic of Malta

Geographic location, history, culture and economic relations are principal elements which determined Malta's geopolitical relevance as a European and Mediterranean island State over the ages. Malta's membership of the European Union has strengthened its geopolitical relevance providing it with the opportunity to exploit this newly found strength to maximise political and economic benefits. With European Union membership, Malta's cultural versatility acquires greater meaning and value in bettering dialogue and cooperation in the Mediterranean Region.

The Republic of Malta is a small, but strategically located island country 60 miles south of Sicily and 180 miles north of Libya, astride some of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. Malta, a politically stable parliamentary republic with a free press, is considered a safe, secure, and welcoming environment for investors to do business.

As a small country and a historic meeting place for reconciliation and dialogue, Malta seeks to project the European Union's friendly face towards its neighbours to the South of the Mediterranean. Inversely, as a country with a closeness and understanding of its southern neighbours and the Arab World, Malta seeks to be a trusted interlocutor, and a voice sensitive to their realities within the European Union. In the context of the European Union's Common Foreign and Security Policy Malta's characteristics are particularly valuable to enhance understanding and stability in a region that remains potentially turbulent. Malta's membership of the European Union not only further strengthens its relevance in international affairs, but also adds significant value to Malta's bilateral relations in general. Its participation in the decision-making process in the European Union is of significant importance in this context, particularly with regard to the opportunity to add value to Malta's bilateral relations with those states which have a political and economic relationship with the European Union.

Strength and relevance in a multilateral and/or regional context feeds strength and relevance in bilateral relations and vice versa. Furthermore, Malta's strategic position in the Mediterranean and its close and friendly relations with its immediate neighbouring countries continue to provide it with opportunities for trade and investment in both directions. Membership of the European Union also places Malta firmly inside the single European market. It also gives Malta guaranteed participation in a plethora of trade agreements including agreements giving greater access to North African and Middle Eastern markets.

With a population of about 420,000, Malta is one of the most densely populated countries in the world, with about 3,423 inhabitants per square mile (1,322 per square kilometer). The archipelago consists of three islands: Malta, Gozo and Comino with a total population of 400,000 inhabitants over an area of 316sq km and a coastline of 196.8km (not including 56.01 km for the island of Gozo). Malta is the largest island and the cultural, commercial and administrative centre. Gozo is the second largest island and is more rural, characterised by fishing, tourism, crafts and agriculture while Comino is largely uninhabited.

Inhabited since prehistoric times, Malta was first colonized by the Phoenicians. Subsequently, Romans, Arabs, Normans, the Knights Hospitallers of St. John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta, and the British have influenced Maltese life and culture to varying degrees. The Maltese Islands have been described as one big open-air museum. What makes them unique is that so much of their past is visible today. Delve into the Islands' mysterious prehistory, retrace the footsteps of St. Paul or see where the Knights of St. John defended Christendom.

There are over 16,000 foreigners residing in Malta. The last decade saw an influx of Europe-bound migrants from sub-Saharan Africa, with some 4,000 in the country as of 2010. There was also a growing North African community of about 4,000 as of 2007. The constitution establishes Roman Catholicism as the religion of Malta; however, it also guarantees full liberty of conscience and freedom of worship and a number of faiths have places of worship on the island. Malta has two official languages--Maltese (a Semitic language with much vocabulary of Arabic origin and borrowed from Sicilian Italian) and English. The literacy rate has reached 93%, compared to 63% in 1946. Schooling is compulsory until age 16.

The Maltese Islands are situated in the center of the Mediterranean - 93 km south of Italy and 290 km north of North Africa. Gozo, which in Maltese is called Ghawdex (pronounced: Awdesh), is a derivation of other older names such as Gaulos. It has an area of 67 square kms, is 14 kms long and 7 kms wide. With a coastline of 43 km, it is the second largest island of the Maltese Archipelago that, together with the smaller isle of Comino and the main island of Malta form the Republic of Malta. Gozo is popularly called The Island of Calypso, that is a nickname originating from the Greek mythological location of Ogygia referred to in Homer's Odyssey. In this epic poem, the fabled island was controlled by the nymph Calypso, who had detained the Greek hero Odysseus for seven long years as prisoner of love.

In comparison with mainland Malta, one finds a more varied geology and larger relief contrasts, with typical flat-topped hills. Over 31000 people inhabit the island and this amounts to one-twelfth of the overall population of Malta. When compared to the overall area of the Maltese Islands, Gozo covers approximately one-third of that area. This means that the island of Gozo is not overpopulated, and therefore greener and quite more peaceful.

With superbly sunny weather, expansive beaches, a thriving nightlife and 7,000 years of intriguing history, there is a great deal to see and do. With a little help from any guidebook, captivating places of interest are immediately identified – the world famous Hypogeum selected as a place of World Heritage by UNESCO, prehistoric temples and grand palaces are but a few. The long relationship between the Islanders and the various nationalities that occupied Malta over the centuries has created a marriage of styles and traditions, giving the Islands a fascinating eclectic culture.

Italy and Malta appealed 14 October 2013 for more assistance from other European states to help manage the sharp increase of arrivals of boat loads of refugees from sub-Saharan and northern Africa and the Middle East on their shores. The United Nations refugee agency estimates 32,000 migrants had arrived in Malta and Italy. Malta's prime minister, Joseph Muscat, made an unannounced visit to Tripoli to discuss the refugee flow with Libya's prime minister, Ali Zidan. It was not immediately clear what was accomplished in the meeting. Many migrants make their way by land to Libya where they pay smugglers to ferry them to Europe's nearest shores -- Italy's Lampedusa or the island nation of Malta.

In December 2015, the government transposed into its national legislation the provisions of the EU council directive that established standards for the reception of applicants for international protection. In December 2015, the government also published a Strategy for the Reception of Asylum Seekers and Irregular Migrants to comply with standards within the Common European Asylum System. The publication outlines a comprehensive approach to the reception of asylum seekers and irregular migrants that addresses their basic needs while establishing procedures to safeguard their rights. The strategy in particular stipulates that the government will no longer detain asylum seekers automatically upon arrival.

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