Malta’s Ambassador meets Maltese who have lived their whole life in Tunisia
The geographical proximity of less than 600 kms between Malta and Tunisia has facilitated a lot of the contacts between the two countries and, in fact, for many years there was a sizable Maltese community in this Arab country. Although the number of Maltese in Tunisia has dropped, the contacts between the two countries are still strong, including Maltese investment.
Despite having a culture and language which are distinct from Malta, over the last 200 years there has always been a strong Maltese community in Tunisia. In the middle of the 19th century, there were around 3000 people, specially in the areas of Susa, Monastir, Mehida and Sfax. By the end of the 19th century, the number went up to 15,000. The Maltese worked on farms, ports and small industries while it is documented that they introduced different types of trees which they brought over from Malta.
Malta’s Ambassador to Tunisia, Mark Pace, said that gradually, the Maltese population decreased considerably after many of them emigrated to France when Tunisia obtained its independence.
“Today the Maltese community is very small, 100 or 200 the most. It consists of three groups of people, the descendants of thousands of Maltese – some tell you there were around 15, 20 or 25 thousand who emigrated to Tunisia between the mid-18 century up to the beginning of the 20th century. The second group consists of businessmen who have been there around 17 years and have managed to continue living there successfully. The third group is made up of those Maltese who have married Tunisian nationals and have continued to live here,” said Ambassador Pace.
Many members of the Maltese community recently got together at the home of Ambassador in the capital of Tunis, on the occasion of the official visit of President Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca. Among these were Carmen Ellul, a woman who has been living in Tunisia for the last 60 years, ever since her family emigrated when their father found employment there.
At the age of 79, Sister Concetta Dimech has been in Tunisia for 40 years. Although she does not know the language, she still manages to communicate with the Tunisians who respect the Maltese a lot. “They treat the Maltese from Tunis as their siblings because they were born here. I don’t see any difference between those who say they are Maltese or French. They are the same.”
The Maltese presence in Tunisia also offers an opportunity for employment for Tunisians. Among these is the Bortex factory which employs around 600 people.