Integration is a two-way process. Simply blaming migrants for failing to integrate or learn English isn’t a viable way forward. So it’s vital that migrant communities are involved in any discussion and development of a UK-wide integration strategy argues MRN Director, Fizza Qureshi.
There was a moment this week where there was a sense of deja vu with the buzz surrounding integration, which soon disappeared once it became apparent that it wasn’t the Casey Review haunting us. This time it was a new report released by APPG on Social Integration launching its Interim Report into Integration of Immigrants.
The highlights from the report include: the need to develop a national strategy, compel immigrants to speak English, and develop regional immigration systems. The recommendations in the report offer few new insights, because they work along the same flawed concepts highlighted in the Casey Review. The only glimmer of hope in the report is that there were some recommendations we could use to build upon.
Integration and Shared Values?
The starting point for any discussion on integration has to be what definition of integration is being used, and is it widely accepted by migrants and settled communities?
The definition the report used for integration was “ …the extent to which people conform to shared norms and values and lead shared lives.” Yet again though, there is no explanation of what those ‘shared norms and values’ are. Tony Blair also mentioned the word ‘values’ in his speech, The Duty to Integrate Shared British Values in 2006. What he and others who followed, have failed to do is to detail exactly what those ‘values’ are. Even Baroness Warsi pointed out that “……Britain needs to be equally sure of its values.”
So, when can the discussion on what these values are begin, before we impose them on others? Before we ask migrants to integrate, we need to have a wider discussion around what they are integrating into. What are those values and norms we want them to partake in? And at what point do we stop making them feel as if they are not part of our community?
Mind Your Language
Mandatory ESOL classes for new immigrants was one of the main recommendations picked up by many. Whilst ESOL classes for migrants have been discussed far and wide, this is the first time that it has been recommended as a mandatory practice for all new immigrants arriving in the UK.
Many are asking, ‘who wouldn’t want to learn English in order to be part of society?’ At the outset, yes, this is a valid question and sounds ideal to allow migrants to settle and give them greater access to the community around them. However, only a short while ago there were significant cuts to ESOL funding, and many migrants were having to join huge waiting lists because demand was so great. It clearly showed that migrants do want to learn English – not through force, but free choice. It was only lack of access that prevented them.
It is also misleading to think that being able to speak English is the only route to ‘integration’. This allows other reasons for the lack of ‘integration’ to be let off the hook, such as discriminatory practices, and not being able to assert the same rights others. English is definitely a key tool for better participation, but it should not be focused on as the main issue.
Integrating – locally and nationally
The inquiry made a similar call to others asking the government to consider devolved and local immigration policies. The localism agenda is interesting, and one that needs more thought and discussion. But firstly we should, gather robust evidence on local issues from communities and relevant stakeholders, rather than rely on anecdotal information alone.
The UK continues to operate an unfair and opaque immigration system against a backdrop of an officially-backed ‘hostile environment’. So how can we expect ‘integration’ when some migrants do not enjoy the same rights and privileges that others do? Until these systemic and structural causes of discrimination are tackled there is little point in forcing migrants to behave in a certain way.
Quite rightly, the inquiry points out that ‘integration’ is a two-way process. So it is important for the government and local communities to address how they welcome migrants too. They could begin by heeding the call for a national strategy. A consultation that asks the important questions: is ‘integration’ the right term, what does it mean, and what are these ‘values’ we keep talking about? Any national strategy must at its heart include the communities it is talking about, seeing as they are usually left out of the arena.
* Fizza joined MRN as the Director Designate in August 2016 and assumed the mantle of Director at the end of that year.
She previously worked at the Terrence Higgins Trust for just over 3 years covering the London and East of England sexual health and HIV services. Before this, she worked as a Programme Manager for an international medical humanitarian organization where she was responsible for its UK independent health clinic, and health advocacy program supporting migrants to access healthcare.
Fizza has a degree in Human Rights and Social Change and Biotechnology. She has previously served as Board Member of MRN, the Institute of Race Relations and Healthwatch Newham.
Her interests include; immigration, race, islamophobia, music, tai chi and traveling.
Read original posting here.
This piece was reprinted by Migrant Tales with permission.