Integration: A Simple Process or a Matter of Endeavour?

Have you ever wondered how many foreign people you have noticed while walking on the streets of your home town? Have you ever asked yourself how different you and “they” are? Or have you ever had difficulties in understanding their traditions, behaviours, and ways of living?

Well, most of the foreign people living in host communities are migrants, who are fleeing from their homes either because of political reasons such as wars, civil conflicts, human rights abuses or searching for improved economic opportunities and a better quality of life.

We can be sure that most of these migrants also ask the questions you are asking yourselves. All of these questions actually depend on one big word, on INTEGRATION. The importance of integration, its necessity, has been recognised especially in the late 80s by the European Union after noticing most of the temporary migrants to these European countries are actually staying as permanent ones. The 2nd and even 3rd generations are having great difficulties adjusting themselves to the daily, social and cultural life in their new countries. Another reality which was seen by the EU member countries was that there are enormous differences between the EU members regarding their migration and integration policies. These realities led the member states to re-consider their migration and integration policies and to re-create them with respect to the abolition of xenophobia in society and stimulation for migrants to be involved in social, cultural and academic life.

Indeed, in October 1999 at Tampere, the Heads of State and of Government of the EU included better integration of the “third country nationals who reside legally on the territory of its Member States” amongst the objectives of the Community, based on the Vienna Action Plan. Regarding migration they said:
“A more vigorous integration policy should aim at granting them rights and obligations comparable to those of the EU citizens. It should also enhance non-discrimination in economic, social and cultural life and develop measures against racism and xenophobia.”

If we say problems of integration could be easily solved with the policies of higher authorities such as the EU and UN, we would be mistaken because integration is not just a simple process. Rather it is a matter of endeavour that should also include local and national authorities, the media, NGOs, scholars and actually all the members of any society.

Children and their education is one of the first and most important steps of the long integration process. Education is a vital element because schools are one of the leading places where foreign children and youngsters get in touch with indigenous people; learning the cultural, social and academic aspects of the host community and also learning the language of the host country. Host language learning is a pre-condition for integration. On the other hand we should also add that education can only be useful for the integration process, if it includes the elements above. An education system that is based on isolation, high levels of nationalism and ignorance would just lead to further gaps in the society between local people and foreign migrants. As a conclusion one can say that the approach of intercultural education is a crucial element on the road to integration and is useful to create a common society that doesn’t just tolerate the differences, but recognises and respects them.

Another important stage of the integration process would also be the solution of the temporary to permanent residence problem. Though the majority of migrants were thought to have come temporarily to the host countries, it should be certainly recognised that most of them will stay there their whole lives, as will their children and grandchildren. Hence, migrants who have stayed an adequate time in their host community should have the same legal rights, just like a local citizen. They should be given first of all: the right of permanent residence, the right to vote and stand for election in local elections. To have a feeling of belonging you should give contributions to your habitat…

The role of local authorities is also crucial. Local attention which is being paid to the integration of migrants would be much more effective than any centralized attention due to the fact that migrants’ needs, problems and their solutions can be more intensively seen and analysed by local authorities. The chance of talking face to face and meeting regularly are other advantages of local decision making powers.

Lastly I would like to spend a few sentences on the role of the media. The media should be aware of the fact that with its objective and fair coverages and publications it can have a big contribution to the creation of balance in society. Hence, media should have a fair and objective approach to migrant issues and it should also be one of the main tools of intercultural education in society.

So, what else is left? I guess there are lots of other elements to analyse and discuss. The road to successful integration is a long and complicated process; yet it is possible to get there in the end. The most important step is; paying attention to the existence of the problem and striving for a solution…

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