As First European Stop for Many African Immigrants, Malta Risks Being Overwhelmed

As First European Stop for Many African Immigrants, Malta Risks Being Overwhelmed

VALETTA, Malta -- On Memorial Day, a senior officer of Malta's tiny army placed a wreath at the Monument of the Fallen situated just outside the capital. The granite column topped by a golden eagle commemorates the Maltese and British defenders who lost their lives in the heroic 1942 siege, in which Axis planes bombed the island into rubble but failed to take it.

The siege of Malta is an incredible saga of resilience in the face of overwhelming odds. But bygones are bygones: Since 2004, the former British colony has been tied to Europe as the smallest member of the 25-member European Union. The island has a total area of 90 square miles, a population just short of 400,000, a rich past history, and the bustle and energy of a fully developed present.

Despite its size, the island looms large in European history because of its strategic position in the center of the Mediterranean. From Malta, a maritime power could dominate the whole expanse of water stretching from Gibraltar to Lebanon -- and a succession of such powers, including Britain and France, did.

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