Towards better inclusion, Europe struggle with integration


Migration is one of the biggest issues in Europe nowadays. Whether we like it or not, migration is a key factor in keeping Europe “alive”. From an economic perspective the huge shortage of manpower is bad, but not yet the worst. Within ten to twenty years most of the European economies are believed to have huge deficits due to a grave need of workers. The new blood injected in the labour market does not match the growing demand in workers of the economy. The wanted skills in our technologically rapidly evolving enterprises is misaligned with the aging workforce, many soon to retire, in most European countries. We can witness this fact clearly in the German model. The simple fact that in the coming twenty years the generations which helped built the current post WWII Europe will be no more, namely the “baby boom” generation and the following one is frightening yet real. Despite the huge internal migration within the EU, from the less fortunate countries to the wealthier ones, the need for migrants from outside the EU still exists. Therefore, migration is one of the needs that almost all economists and sociologists uphold. There is some sort of unspoken consensus within the academic world for the urgent need of a greater facilitation of migration. Unlike Japan and South Korea, most of European countries, luckily, have a long experience in receiving migrants and refugees. Although refugees cannot be reduced to purely economic reasons, what differentiates them from migrant workers. But for them economic reasons are fundamental for their human and financial independence.

If the European countries observe and cherish this practice by allowing an even stronger and flow of migrants in, they can theoretically prevent a self-decided collapse from happening to their economies. But that should be accompanied by well-structured integration programs and a huge change in the mentality of how Europeans view the rest of the world. These two points are vital to let the newcomers integrate in the society swiftly.

Otherwise Europe will end up with more separated white/non-white neighborhoods structured in economically uneven ways according to “colour” scattered around the big cities. And more youngsters who lack the sense of belonging to their new home countries, where they were born, and to their parents’ home lands- where they originally came from. Some of these youngsters, with a deep identity crisis living in a limbo, may at a certain point pose a threat not only to their societies, but to their very own selves.

The ‘lost’ generations with migration background are the direct result of the long intended neglect and the discriminatory approach of successive governments in different places in Europe. They are a perfect example of failed integration policies. This phenomenon differs from one European country to another, but exists in almost every single one of them. A lesson must be learned from the past, before inequality shapes the future!

So what does “integration” exactly mean? The term “integration”, from sociological perspective, refers to the bi-lateral relation between the hosting society and the new-comers’ communities in which there is a hosting society willing to incorporate newcomers as new members on one hand, and newcomers who are willing to adapt to the general principles, values and regulations of their new society- on the other hand.

Sadly enough, most European countries have failed to apply this balanced bi-lateral relation. They impose “integration courses” on new comers, but do not even bother to let the hosting societies know what the meaning of integration is. This smells like integration without reciprocity. As a result, most Europeans have a hidden tendency towards the ultimate “integration” of “the others” . Where adapting to the general principles and values means erasing the identity of the newcomers and where the culture of the newcomers is a subject of despise and mockery, the newcomers are forcibly assimilated and made into walking collections of the clichés which the hosting country considers their culture.

This assimilation doctrine of imposing integration in one direction, whereby newcomers try to integrate into a society which refuses to integrate them with their differences and the lack of reciprocity in social-economic ways, is the epidemic practice that has swiped across Europe for the last seventy years. And to be fair and more specific, European countries cannot be all put in the same basket in regards with integration. The contrast between the UK’s very open and multicultural model and the French nationalistic and extreme secularistic “laicité”-one is very clear. Whereas some other countries’/regions’ models fall in between, Flanders for instance. Each of these models has enormous ramifications on the societies of these countries that can be crystal clear seen today, even in the lingering on between different models according to political conflicts about diversity and the multicultural society.

If we track this issue back, we certainly should come to the fact that migrants have been excluded, intentionally or not. Perhaps, it is the colonial past still echoing till now. It is this hidden collective feeling of fear and anxiety. The hosting “white” communities have always needed the feeling of being secure and superior. They did not want to feel defeated and insecure in their own countries, on their very own lands. For them any sense of equality between them and the newcomers, whereby many used to be their previous ‘subjects’ and thus subjected to them, was considered a defeat.

As a result their policy was continually applied to keep this superiority causing a noticeable inequality in the society. Despite the fact that European union’s fundamental principles of equality, human dignity and freedom are being observed by some member states in a sense, the needed equality on the person and the community levels is not yet achieved. This paradox which most EU countries still have and which is deeply rooted within their structure is on one hand admitting the need to of more migrants and on the other hand to keep these migrant communities deprived from lots of rights. Clearly and in many occasions human rights and EU principles of equality are overshadowed by some nationalistic views that divide societies into first and second class citizens. The Euro-centric mentality is up till now the biggest challenge which is really problematic given the fact that it is being passed from one generation to the next as cultural heritage. It is also quite challenging to preach diversity and coexistence in a society where a superior white Europe is idolized.

There is a wide-spread idea that is being circulated as a fact, but it is really a big lie. Migrants live in separate neighborhoods because they don’t wish to mix and integrate with people. And this lie is commonly used to accuse the migrants of being resistant to integration with the mainstream society. The truth is that when migrants came to Europe in late fifties and beginning sixties they lived in the poorest neighborhoods due to the fact that they had low incomes compared to others. Then the following waves of migrants inhabited the same neighborhoods and used them as economic levers. So the root issue is housing related.

But later, it was used as a defensive technique against a society which simply did not accept them as they are, the constant unjust attempts to diminish the migrants cultural and religious background and to minimize the micro-aggressions that migrants endure almost on daily basis. Being discriminated in the job-market for generations, their children were an easy prey for crime and ignorance. They were, and still are in many places, victims of alienation from the hosting society which label them as  “the others” as long as they don’t match in colour and social norms. All of the previously mentioned problems can be traced back to one thing: failed integration.

In the past years a wind of change has blown in the continent. Many people from progressive, liberal and even some conservative backgrounds are calling for a real shift towards better integration. A shift which allows every European to be part of the decision making process regardless of his/her ethnic or religious background and to include them in the process as citizens with full rights. Nevertheless, the big challenge is still there.It is not only about the will to change or to include persons, but rather to include their background as a whole as a basic element of the society. And by doing this, they will not be seen as aliens anymore and their differences will be looked at as essential elements of the country’s cultural entity. The sole way to apply this is by doing the missing part of integration which was mentioned earlier, to lay the basis and the relation between cultural recognition and socio-economic redistribution that includes newcomers and emancipates them.

 Unfortunately, this wave of change has been strongly opposed in the last ten years by growing nationalistic and openly racist groups. The issue of migration is being more and more used as scarecrow by the right and extreme right wing to seed fear among European citizens. This xenophobic tool has been implemented during many elections in different European countries and proved to have a big impact especially where bigotry and narrow-mindedness spread.

Europe is changing and the need to implement logical integration is immense. Integration that preaches unity and respects diversity. The new multicultural Europe will be stronger and more successful when diversity becomes the norm. When differences are being appreciated and seen as a mean of enriching the country. When differences become part of the entangled story of inclusion, dangling between cultural recognition and social-economic policies promoting social mobility of all.

Finally, if Europeans want to ensure the success of integration, they should keep this in mind “It takes two to tango”.

Ahmad Abu Sen
Ahmad Abu Sen
Policy officer at Flanders Refugee Action (Vluchtelingenwerk Vlaanderen) Syrian, Freelance journalist/blogger and lecturer Writes in Arabic and English


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