In our increasingly interconnected world, migration is one of its major characteristics. It has turned into a focus point of analysis everywhere, especially in European countries. The massive arrival of asylum seekers opened a polarised debate. Among the public, there is overreaction and fear due to a string of misconceptions and the lack of information about the situation.
Eva Degler, Migration policy analyst at the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, and Leo Lucassen, Professor of Social History and author, stated the multidimensional nature of migration and the importance of academics to get involved in order to find a solution. They lectured about the countries’ actions in the matter of refugee integration.
Labelling the immigrant inflow as ‘refugee crisis’.
The period since the end of 2014 and the beginning of 2015 is called the European refugee crisis, when the number of people arriving to the continent increased dramatically. Since 2014, 1.8 million refugees have arrived to the European Union. Various European countries received around 1 million asylum applications, with Germany having received the most.
However, the discussion is not entirely new. In the 1990’s, for example, the continent experienced an influx, with Germany again at the centre of the process. The fall of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia pushed migrants escaping war and ethnic persecution westward. According to Lucassen, the volume of asylum seekers in many European countries was even higher in comparison with the current data. Lucassen affirms that the factors contributing to the title of ‘refugee crisis’ are not due to the statistics, not the people’s origin countries, but the fact that populist parties linked polarised discussions plus the events of terrorism. Aspects that have played key roles in shifting people’s perceptions and making the debate much more apocalyptic.
The concept of integration is not clearly stated, as it can be defined in several different ways. Furthermore, the distinction of integration as a program and integration as a process is important. While as a program it is a political issue, as a process it is focussed on an interactive process where both societies should collaborate.
On one side, integration may deal for instance with an aspect of personal identification, belonging or cultural identity. On the other, successful integration may be evaluated in socio-economic outcomes as the OECD does. Integration may turn to be objective when observing the performance of migrants, refugees in this case, in the labour market, income rates or the academic performance of migrants’ children. This manner of analysing integration facilitates the obtention of measurable outcomes.
Successful integration becomes difficult to measure when it comes to set a definition, due to the wide range of diversity, this is why it turns out to be a political question. Degler suggests working towards a framework around the situation of refugees, in essence, the actions of countries, municipalities, government organizations, etc.
Education systems and refugee integration (Germany).
Integration agendas on education vary all over Germany because it is the federal state. Nonetheless, programs follow similar structures.
Compulsory schooling-age migrants are required to attend school and receive additional support in the language skills. The amount of support required mainly relies on the age of the child and the easiness of learning, earlier age kids demand less academic German language skills compared to adolescents in order to be integrated into regular schooling. Concerning the adult population, the German government provides free access to integration courses which is mandatory for refugees and some migrants groups. The focal point of the integration course is language learning which signifies better-equipped people participating in the labour market. Besides, they are offered an orientation course about how German society operates, the legal system, history of Germany and civic values to some extent.
Public opinion is shaped by the stigmatisation that encloses the refugee population, leading to erroneous beliefs as the assumption that the influx is a threat to European values. Degler stressed that civic integration, broadly speaking, does not represent an issue. A survey carried out in Germany for asylum applicants showed up a high rate of people appreciating civic values such as free speech, democracy, gender roles, having in consideration their background countries. Thus, she finds it vital to develop pedagogical tools and procure an effective language learning.
Discrimination in the Labour market affecting integration.
In order to participate in the labour market of OECD countries, asylum seekers are expected to fulfill a certain waiting time depending on the country they are from. This period may take several months until a migrant can seek employment plus the validation time of the asylum application.
The analyst pointed out that issues with the legal system may be seen as negligible considering the circumstances of a refugee who does not speak the language at all, for example. Then, three months (waiting time for being part of the labour market in Germany) turns to be insignificant. She mentions the main practical obstacles for the integration of refugees into the labour market are language barriers, lack of training, or diplomas that are not accepted. To deal with these hurdles, population with a status of refugee in some countries has access to language and training programs. Still, people seeking for asylum are excluded and therefore the issue is not addressed.
On the other hand, the public perception of downward pressures in wages or the displacement of natives from the labour market are not empirically proved on the macroeconomic level, Lucassen asserted. Migrants workers tend to be placed in areas where there is a shortage of labour.
In addition, when it comes to CV evaluations, there appears to be discrimination against people with foreign-sounding names. People with these names have less probability to be invited to interviews or hired. Degler claims an option to deal with this type of discrimination is strong anti-discrimination legislation.
Lucassen expressed the shifting of politics to the right in the continent that present refugees with a negative framework, and the moral courage of politicians that requires to go against the tide to get the knowledge into the public debate. However, a public used to a negative outline is difficult to persuade even with facts and statistics because they will have a manipulated perception. Degler added the fact that people’s attitude tends to be more negative towards migrants when there is an absence of interaction with migrants on a daily basis. The polarised debate has caused the invisibility of the middle part of the dispute, a large portion of society that is moderately positive towards the situation.
Dr. Lucassen emphasised that a prompt integration is less costly in many dimensions, principally in economic terms.
“Diversity is good for society”– Leo Lucassen