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Research identifies the keys to migrant integration at a local level

15 April 20200 comments

The integration into communities of newly arrived migrants and refugees should be a natural part of the work of governments at all levels in a globalised world and not just a response to a temporary problem, according to new research from Sweden.

Cooperation within and between municipalities as well as cooperation with civil society, government agencies and other actors are also important factors in succeeding with integration, says the research conducted by the University of Gothenburg’s Centre on Global Migration.

It says that integration efforts should be designed to meet the specific needs of each individual.

“One key to success is to identify the individual’s needs early on and find a way of meeting those needs. For example, alternative solutions for individuals with little education were called for, as were special programmes for immigrant women who are very far from the labour market,” the report says.

Lead researchers Sylwia Jedrzejewska and Andrea Spehar also say it is important to regard new arrivals as a resource and to promote a positive image of immigration and integration; an image that leads people to understand that everyone needs to learn to live together with differences in a multicultural society.

The researchers say that knowledge is also needed within the organisations.

“This requires efforts such as maintaining the competencies … gathered and monitoring developments in the fields of migration and integration, and interacting with other actors,” they says.

The study, titled ‘Challenges and opportunities in municipal work towards long-term integration’, focused on the municipality of Vastra Gotaland, on Sweden’s west coast, which has seen increased immigration of refugees, including families, adults and unaccompanied children since 2015.

Along with changes in the regulations in integration policy, this has presented new challenges for the municipalities’ work with the reception and integration of new arrivals. In recent years, the integration of immigrants into society has become a hot political topic.  

The research identified worries about cutbacks to services helping migrants settle.

“Quite a few participants wondered what would happen if the resources for working with new arrivals were to be reduced,” the researchers said.

“If one does not invest in the new arrivals’ continued journey into society after the first period of establishment, there is a risk that they will not succeed in becoming financially self-sufficient,” they said.

Another challenge identified was the fact that among the new arrivals who have come to Sweden in recent years, there is a significant group of low-skilled people who require additional support.

“A recurring theme in the discussions were reflections on strategies for preventing high staff turnover and maintaining competence, as well as how to be prepared for the next possible ‘refugee crisis’,” the researchers said.

The research also canvased the definition of the term ‘integration’.

It concluded that there are other words better suited than the term integration – inclusion, reciprocity, establishment, and participation, among others.

The research also mooted that integration can also be understood as something negative and exclusionary if immigrants are depicted as culturally and economically problematic.

But it found the most common understanding of what integration means is that a newly arrived immigrant is regarded integrated once they have housing, work, power over their lives, opportunities for growth and participate in majority society.

According to most respondents to surveys conducted during the research, a job and financial self-sufficiency should be considered to be the most important in deeming a person to be integrated in society.

The researchers also identified challenges to successful integration.

Among these were the notion that integration policy is defined at a national level and that municipalities should be allowed to adapt national guidelines to their local conditions.

Also, the ‘projectification’ of integration policy measures were found to be problematic where short-term projects are implemented with grants instead of focusing on long-term plans.