Facing the challenges of migrant integration

“Often [migrants] live and work in the shadows, denied their rights and vulnerable to discrimination, exploitation and marginalisation,” said FRA Director Michael O’Flaherty during the 3rd European Migration Forum in Brussels on 3 March. He outlined some of the shortcomings of existing integration policies across the EU, to guide the EU and its Member States as they refocus their integration efforts.

The Director acknowledged that these are difficult times for fundamental rights. Here he gave falling confidence in rights and the systems that uphold them, as well as persistent rights violations as examples. He also spoke about the “political forces in Europe that are capitalising on people’s fears and security concerns to gain electoral support for their chauvinist, racist agendas. And their fierce resistance to integrate newcomers will continue. They will use lies; they will use fear and intimidation.”

He spoke of the effect that all this is having on minority communities, drawing on earlier Agency work. He spoke of many minorities experience widespread discrimination when looking for work; at work; when looking for housing; in education; or when accessing healthcare or social services. He also painted a picture of hate crime and frequent police stops.

While he recognised the national debates that are currently taking place, often sceptical about the feasibility of living together, he underlined its importance and how it can contribute to the sustainable growth Europe needs to be strong and prosperous. He referred to adhering to the EU’s ‘Common Basic Principles for Immigrant Integration’. They speak of integration as a dynamic, two-way process of mutual accommodation by all immigrants and residents of Member States.

However, drawing on a report the Agency will publish on 15 March, he outlined some of the problems with existing integration approaches.

For example, across the EU, different Member States have approached integration in different ways. As a result deficiencies in one or another Member State may impact others. In addition, often these approaches do not explicitly address people with a migrant background, even though they are often disadvantaged. They also tend to be “blind to the situation of women” which underlines the need for a gendered approach.

Then there is the question of education and language learning, two elements vital for successful integration. Language learning is often of poor quality and rarely linked to on-the-job-training. There is also strong evidence of some form of segregation in schools revealing migrants and non-migrants living separate, divided lives.

To help refocus integration efforts, he called on “all EU institutions, national governments, human rights institutions, civil society, social partners, and faith communities [to] do our part to ensure that the European project is one of which we can be proud; one that puts human dignity at its very heart.