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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.

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


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.

Amnesty International – Malta Group

Centre for Faith and Justice
Tel: 2141 2606

Jesuit Refugee Service
Tel: +356-21-442751


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