Migrant integration in an era of superdiversity

Professor Jenny Phillimore

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The advent of superdiversity has in the past few years been juxtaposed with several other trends. Perhaps most importantly there is the global recession and associated austerity cuts introduced in many of the world’s leading countries of immigration. These global developments occur in an environment already unfavourable to immigration and integration. Developments including the re- politicisation of migration, the rise of new right-wing and xenophobic movements, growing use of welfare rationing, and increasing levels of negative media and public opinion, all of which impact on migrants’ ability to integrate. Claims have been made that the increase in diversity has reduced levels of social solidarity in society, and with it support for the welfare state, as the general population are prepared only to contribute to welfare measures for people with whom they share an affinity.   In the combined eras of superdiversity and austerity the successful integration of migrants is more important and more challenging than ever.

Today’s article focuses on the findings of a large scale review of local and experiential aspects of integration undertaken as part of the European funded KING project which is working to help shape the Common Basic Principles on migrant integration for the European Commission. Gary Craig, Rachel Humphris and Marta Kindler were collaborators on this project.

Academics have long outlined the two-way nature of the integration process . True integration can only occur when majority and minority communities adapt to a new reality. This is barely if ever acknowledged by politicians and thus rarely translates into policy and practice. The need for mutual adapation is reinforced by the evidence that shows the extent to which both individual and institutional racism impacts upon migrant and minority communities. Racism prevents minorities from achieving their potential, impacts on social mobility and reduces social confidence restricting social networks. The current anti-migrant, anti-multiculturalism ideology perpetuated by politicians and the media prevents migrants and minorities accessing all integration domains, impacts upon mental and physical health and social mobility. Such ideology legitimises racism while supporting moves to restrict migrants’ access to welfare which then enhances their vulnerability and exclusion.

The KING review provided clear evidence that migrants experienced poor outcomes in the arenas of health, housing, education and employment. Whilst many of these outcomes improve over generations some long-established minority groups have yet to reach parity with the general population. The review also demonstrated that social mixing with non-migrant communities was difficult to achieve because migrants lacked the opportunity to mix or were fearful of racist harassment. Instead migrants relied heavily on peer groups and civil society for support.

Lack of knowledge about institutional structures and systems and local behavioural norms prevents migrants accessing services and interaction with local people. Superdiversity brings challenges associated with newness and novelty of cultures, experiences and problems both for providers and migrants. A key gap in integration initiatives is developing the skills that professionals need to adapt services in an ever-changing, fast diversifying, environment.

Ability to speak the host community language emerges from many research projects as being essential to enable migrant/minority access to services, support the development of social relations with others and to enable participation in networks and forums. Language enables conversations with ‘others’ that have the potential to resist racist sterotyping, at least at individual and local community level. Language enables access to education about how to engage with the system and better quality employment that can help support social mobility and thus reduce exclusion.

Austerity measures have led to a reduction in support for migrant focused initiatives to the point that many EU countries are able to provide little support with integration and adaptation. Scandinavian countries standout in stark contrast to much of the rest of Europe in providing extensive integration programmes that support migrants to access language and citizenship classes which have been demonstrated to impact positively on migrants’ access to employment.

Exclusion and deprivation have enormous impact upon the ability of new migrants and existing minorities to integrate and meet their potential. Furthermore given the economic imperative used as the main justification for migration, migrant down-skilling, poor education outcomes and economic activity levels have an economic, as well as social, opportunity cost. If we continue our laissez-faire approach to integration placing the onus on migrants to integrate without considering the role of the state and its citizens it is likely that we will see the super-exclusion discussed yesterday given that it is predicted that by 2050 around 30% of the UK’s population will have a migrant background.

Professor Jenny Phillimore is Professor of Migration and Superdiversity at the University of Birmingham.

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