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  • Susanna

Notes on integration: making it work

This commentary will explore a few points on what can make integration and social mixing work. In today’s political landscape, the values of hosting and sharing do not seem to be widespread. Recent agreements, such as the one between the EU and Tunisia [1], seem to replicate decades-old political positions, encouraging hostilities and violence towards migrants, resulting in avoidable deaths [1]. When talking about forced migration, it seems that social integration – understood as social interaction and mixing - is not just a choice or value, but possibly the only humane way forward. In fact, there are positive examples of integration efforts and both the EU and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) map and systematise these to enable replication [2,3]. Strategies found among featured campaigns [4] include using social media and ‘influencer’ people to crowdfund education programs for children about cultural diversity [5], and platforms where it is possible to share experiences of xenophobia and learn how to react to xenophobic incidents [6]. IOM has also published guidelines for successful social mixing [7], emphasising sports, visual and performing arts, and film screenings as effective interventions. 


Integration is a process of reciprocal adaptation between migrants and the societies in which they live [8], implying social mixing. Social mixing relies on cultural acceptance and the legitimation of migrants as contributors to society, which must be politically driven in order to scale efforts from local to national to regional [9]. It is not enough to simply organise volunteering activities or neighbourhood social events – there needs to be an effort to include migrant communities that goes beyond the sense that they need to be helped. Migrants need to contribute. 


Integration is a form of community healing.  We all need community support. We all need to talk to solve our differences. It can be argued that there can be no integration without first addressing inequalities for ‘us’. Yet migrant contributions would overall help the local economy. The post-Brexit UK economy is a recent example of how an economy can be hindered by the lack of migrants [10]. Migrant contributions are not only spiritually healing for ‘them’, provided they access dignified labour, but also – in much more practical or materialistic terms - they improve the economy [10]. 


Integration can also be a form of reparative justice, if historical injustices are acknowledged as part of integration efforts [11]. Reparative justice is a broad principle by which ‘those who cause harm, and especially unjustified harm, bear a special obligation to make amends for it’ (pp 44; 12). As James Souter notes (pp 48-49; 12), harm can also be caused by silencing and omissions. Interventions with a social mixing and reparative justice focus should empower social groups affected by historical discrimination-based violence, by recognising historical damage and granting a form of compensation for it. For example, social support or easier access to public services and refugee status [13].


A baseline for integration is recognising migrant community organisations as important intermediaries [9] and providing expanded and more accessible, culturally-sensitive services. For example, decent housing, public spaces , education, validation of foreign training, and health [7]. This would need to include benefit to marginalised host populations [9]. Education is also particularly important for migrant children, where schools can provide an excellent starting point for integration. Foster families for unaccompanied migrant children provide another platform for cultural mixing and for child protection at once, understanding foster families not as adoptive, but as individualised support for the unaccompanied migrant child [14].  


Within a framework of health, healing and wellbeing, we should ask ourselves: what counts as local, and what counts as a community? If we embrace movement and transient or trans-national networks as part of the local, then we can create communities that value respect and dialogue to other communities. We can start changing narratives of ‘victims’ or ‘criminals’ to those of ‘survivors’ and ‘contributors’. Most of all, we can transform efforts of reparative justice into healing and community-building, for both migrant and host communities.


References

  1. IOM. “The Power of Contact: Designing, Facilitating and Evaluating Social Mixing Activities to Strengthen Migrant Integration and Social Cohesion Between Migrants and Local Communities”. (2021): https://publications.iom.int/books/power-contact-designing-facilitating-and-evaluating-social-mixing-activities-strengthen 

  2. International Organisation for Migration, Glossary on Migration (2019): https://publications.iom.int/system/files/pdf/iml_34_glossary.pdf 

  3. Kindler, Marta, Vesselina Ratcheva, and Maria Piechowska. "Social networks, social capital and migrant integration at local level. European literature review." Institute For Research Into Superdiversity 6 (2015)

  4. Portes, Jonathan. “The impact of Brexit on the UK economy: Reviewing the evidence”. Centre for Economic Policy Research (2023): https://cepr.org/voxeu/columns/impact-brexit-uk-economy-reviewing-evidence

  5. Abubakar, Ibrahim, et al. "Confronting the consequences of racism, xenophobia, and discrimination on health and health-care systems." The Lancet 400.10368 (2022): 2137-2146.

  6. Souter, James. “Asylum as Reparation: Refuge and Responsibility for the Harms of Displacement”. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2022

  7. Corona-Maioli, S., de León, A. D., Machado-Núñez, S., Gómez-Juárez, J. E., & Berenzon-Gorn, S. (2024). Respuestas ante la ausencia familiar en la migración de adolescentes no acompañados en México. Salud Pública de México, 66(1, ene-feb), 37-49.

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