Ever since the Home Secretary announced her plan for the new integration strategy in June 2011, we have been waiting for it to materialise with a mixture of excitement and anxiety, says Zrinka Bralo.
Excitement because it might be different and better from those preceding it, and anxiety because of recent government announcements about further immigration restrictions. The rumour in the blogosphere is that a draft integration strategy called ‘Creating the Conditions for Integration’ has been circulating in Whitehall since November 2011. At The Forum, the organisation where I work, we are curious to see what’s in store for the future of integration as this is what we do and we need a constructive environment to be able to keep doing it.
So in anticipation of the new strategy, we have spent the last six months talking to our members about their experiences of trying to fit in and to people whose bread and butter is in knowing about integration. We’ve even been to other countries to learn more: in Canada we talked to officials from the Ontario Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration and in Brussels we learned about how other European cities do integration and shared our experience with our European colleagues. The resulting toolkit, ‘Working on Integration at Local Level’, by the European Network Against Racism (ENAR) recognises our work as one of six models of good local integration practice in Europe. And we have also written up our personal story of doing integration for 18 years. It’s called ‘Operation Integration: The Making of New Citizens’.
Here are some of the highlights:
Integration is happening and the government has been investing in integration for years through EU funds, local government grants and NHS commissioning. Thousands of innovative grassroots initiatives are delivering integration outcomes and have done so for decades. Charitable trust funds also contribute to this public investment and provide models of good practice in joined up investment. This good work must be acknowledged and utilised better.
The Government needs to opt for a more inclusive, needs based approach to integration that includes all migrants and provides a framework for other departments and civil society to embrace integration as a positive process and a desired outcome. Once missed, opportunities for integration will cost society much more in the long run.
The massive scale of social and economic change happening in the UK and in Europe must not leave migrants and refugees behind. This is not only because we might lose the benefits of the investment already made, but also because we cannot afford the wasted contribution that migrants could make if we were to approach integration in a more organised way. For example, The Forum knows of thousands of unemployed migrant health professionals who are therefore not able to contribute millions in income tax every year. We need a vision that focuses on contributions and opportunities. Yes, we know that not all migrants are doctors. It turns out that some of them are talented artists who have shaped British art over the last 500 years – check out the recent exhibition at Tate Modern.
Today, we are launching The Forum’s multimedia report about integration successes and challenges, our context and history. ‘Operation Integration: The Making of New Citizens’ tells the story from our perspective and how, for example, we came to know about thousands of migrant dentists. It gives voice to those who do most of the work of integration and hardly ever have a say: migrants and refugees, our new citizens.
Please explore our interactive website, contribute your own video and join us over the next few weeks as we continue the discussion.
Zrinka Bralo is the Executive Director of The Forum (Migrant and Refugee Communities Forum).