Integration: Where Next? discussion at the Forum tried to answer this question last week. The situation is this: there is really no meaningful government integration policy to help in the process. Despite the appearances, it is a hollow vision outsourcing integration to local governments without substantive guidance and no money. Instead, long term integration goals are embedded in equality and social mobility strategy, the results of which are to be seen decades from now. The Prevent Strategy also does not help integration as it is singling out identifiable sections of population. This coupled with the ongoing funding and legal aid cuts, the shrinking civil society, immigration policy restrictions targeting migrants already here and those wishing to come and the ongoing negative public narrative on migration left us with a formidable challenge to find a positive angle and see the light at the end of the tunnel. Nevertheless, we managed and here is the good news. The changing landscape offers new opportunities and hubs of activity where community organisations and individuals can work together and change things for the better.
1.Better knowledge about migrants
First, there are new and louder voices speaking constructively and positively of migrants, such as Migration Observatory, Migrant Rights Network, British Future and Migrant Voice and many others who add voice and offer more and better data on migration in the UK, shaping the debate and counteracting negative views of migrants. The greater demand for knowledge on migration and migrants in the UK engendered numerous research projects and institutes producing information on different aspects of migrant life: labour markets in which migrants work, different migrant communities, their specificities and needs, etc. All this, when used well, gives substance to the public debate. We can now talk of specifics rather than of general notions about immigration and try to find or offer successful solutions.
2. New ways of doing politics
Second, there are new ways of doing politics. Proactive and substantive policy debates and campaigns have already started delivering successful outcomes. The MRN’s run All Parliamentary Party Group on Migration offers opportunity to directly engage with MPs on specific issues. COMPAS briefings offer the latest research on migrants and migration in the UK and beyond where funders, academics, government official and civil servants alike gather to get ideas for future needs and funding streams. The Citizens UK, champions of deliberative democracy and role models of community engagement, have been working for years on organising local communities to jointly act on issues of concern. Their Living Wage and City Safe campaigns have already improved the lives of thousands of migrants and their families and turned innumerable youth and adults into active citizens working for common good of the community. To join any of these hubs of action and look for similar others will work to strengthen the voice and exert the political pressure to deliver better outcomes for new and old migrant communities alike.
3. Models of success
Thirdly, there are models of success to learn from and engage with. The recent joint campaign of the Albanian and Somali communities in the UK to have Albanian language accredited at the GCSE level is nearing a successful conclusion. Receiving a credit for a mother tongue makes a vast difference to thousands of students of Albanian background by recognising and valuing their heritage and encouraging them to demonstrate it well. ‘The Albanian Solution’ described in the Times Educational Supplement, offers a valuable lesson for all communities – work together on tangible issues that make a difference to the lives of thousands and you will succeed. By working together, the Albanian and Somali community numbering tens of thousands were determined to act for a wider community interest. Once Albanian language is accredited, the next come Somali language and then possibly some other community languages. The floodgates are open and the precedent set. Acting together for the common good of a larger community brings about change.
The next three years will be critical for action. Immigration issues will again be used in political campaigning and we can reasonably anticipate unpleasant public rhetoric implicating migrants in a range of socially contentious themes such as scarce jobs and public housing, to name only two. We need to work together to challenge negative perceptions of working migrants who make positive contribution to our daily lives from cleaning London public transport, caring for elderly or the sick in hospitals or feeding Londoner with delicious ethnic foods. We need to understand better and talk about the causes of housing crisis and the impact of the housing cap in London outside immigration smokescreen. If social mobility is for everyone, how do the migrants fare in climbing up the ladder? We need to know better, work together and speak for ourselves to counter prejudice against migrants.