Are we all serious about integration?

Muki Gorar
Lecturer in Law at the University of Hertfordshire

Europe has embraced millions of immigrants for various reasons since the middle of the 20th century, from economic migrants to those who flee to a safer land in order to save their lives.  Economic opportunities, democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights (as enjoyed in Europe) are sought by those who suffer the lack of these conditions in their home country. As a home to many different people from many different backgrounds, Europe has become a multicultural continent.

The concept of multiculturalism advocates respect for cultural differences of those communities living in the same State. The reason being that while promoting respect, understanding and tolerance between minority and dominant cultures, the citizens of that State would benefit from a richer and more diverse society.[1] The objective, therefore, is to balance the desire to protect the values of the dominant culture with the need to recognise and respect the values of minority cultures as much as possible.[2] In practice, the success of multiculturalism depends on achieving an agreement of what are the core values of the host community and then develop a type of integration that amalgamates the cultures without compromising these values.

The concept of multiculturalism is very relevant in the UK, since ethnic diversity within England and Wales have been reported to be increasing: the portion of the population that described themselves as white went down from 94.1% in 1991 to 86% in 2011.[3] In the UK, multiculturalism has been promoted by successive governments with the aim of combating racism as well as promoting an integrated, tolerant and egalitarian society, where the diversity of cultures and races are valued equally.[4]

Since it is accepted that there should be core values, the integration of immigrants has to be facilitated by measures that allow the newcomers to see the reasons for these core values. It is vital that the final objective of the integration is to respect these core values and to avoid the perception that the State is just accommodating ‘parallel lives’ for members of ethnic minorities.[5] This has not been a concern alone for the UK, issues around integration of ethnic minorities have become more and more prevalent across Europe. The rise in extremism has put this issue under the spotlight and there have been attempts to tackle the poor integration of migrants into Western culture at European Union level.  Therefore, EU Member States have to ensure that they facilitate and promote the integration of minorities.[6] In that spirit, the concept of civic integration has been formulated in Europe. However, Member States retain significant discretion over their individual integration requirements in their territories.[7]

The UK civic integration agenda requires immigrants to undertake a citizenship test as a prerequisite for acquiring British citizenship. The test was introduced with the idea of helping applicants to successfully integrate into the majority community. However, a report written by Professor Thom Brooks highlights that the test fails to satisfy its own standard by not including the necessary general practical knowledge that  individuals need to have in their daily life. There is no general information provided on areas such as how to use the NHS, educational qualifications, subjects taught in schools, how to report a crime or contact an ambulance and other everyday knowledge which has been claimed all new citizens should know. Instead, applicants are asked questions such as the age of the Big Ben and the height of the London Eye.[8] As a result, this becomes a missed opportunity to share valuable and basic information to help immigrants to better integrate in the UK.

Ethnic minority members cannot be integrated into a host country if they cannot speak the language properly. This also impacts the social and economic cohesion of the country as a whole, as an immigrant without language skills cannot socialise with English speakers, nor can he or she progress in the workforce. However, there have been different approaches adopted towards facilitating integration and language requirements for immigrants in recent years. English for Speakers of Other Languages courses (ESOL) used to be very useful and affordable (means tested), but the government stopped funding it in 2016. The Prime Minister of the time, David Cameron, after having overseen £45 million cuts to ESOL classes, told BBC Radio Four that ‘22%  of Muslim women in the UK cannot speak English, and as such may be ”more susceptible to the extremist message(s)”…’[9]

 In recent years, concerns have been raised around the lack of opportunity and integration in some of the most socially isolated communities in the UK. In July 2015, former Prime Minister Cameron acknowledged that in the some parts of the country opportunities for some communities were limited due to language barriers; where too many women from minority communities remained trapped outside the workforce and where educational attainment was low.[10] In the same speech, Dame Louise Casey was commissioned to carry out a review of how to boost opportunity and integration in these communities and bring Britain together as one nation.

The Casey Review was undertaken and a report has been published in December 2016.This report reveals that cultural and religious practices in some communities were running contrary to British values and sometimes laws.[11] The report also concludes that during the last 15 years, the different governments have not implemented community cohesion strategies with enough force or consistency.[12] The report further provides that these strategies have not been linked to socio-economic inclusion and communities have not been engaged adequately.[13]

Although it is too early to see the effects of the Casey Review, it has confirmed the fact that previous governments have failed to maintain social integration in the UK. Furthermore, the Casey Review has firmly put community cohesion and integration back on the agenda. Acknowledging the shortcomings is a step forward. Likewise, it is also crucial for immigrants to use the sources and opportunities offered to them, with real willingness, to become a full and active participant of this country.

It is self-evident that the measures adopted to facilitate the immigrants’ integration have not been fully successful so far. However, as a home to democracy, human rights and rule of law, Great Britain can overcome this by reviewing the failures of existing measures and implementing more efficient ones, sooner rather than later.

[1] Raz (1994) cited in J. Herring, Family Law, (Pearson Education Ltd., Harlow, 2011), p. 34

[2] J. Herring, Family Law,(Pearson Education Ltd., Harlow, 2011),p.33

[3]shttp://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20160105160709/http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/resources/figure1_tcm77-290598.png [16/12/2016]

[4] Patel 2000 p.6, cited in R. Reddy, ‘Gender, Culture and the Law: Approaches to ‘Honour Crimes’ in the UK’, Fem Leg Stud (2008) 16:305–321

[5] M. Dustin and A. Phillips, ‘Whose agenda is it? Abuses of women and abuses of ‘culture’ in Britain’, Ethnicities 1468-7968, Vol 8(3) p.406

[6] Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions, European Agenda for the Integration of Third-Country Nationals, Brussels, 20.7.2011 COM(2011) 455 final, available at: ec.europa.eu/dgs/home-affairs/news/intro/…/1_en_act_part1_v10.pdf [11/11/2016]

[7] S. Mullally, ‘Retreat from multiculturalism; community cohesion, civic integration and the disciplinary politics of gender’ (2013) International Journal of the Law in Context, p.2

[8] T. Brooks, The ‘Life in the United Kingdom’ Citizenship Test, Is it Unfit for Purpose?’ (2013) Report, http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:UwlpUwpqH3QJ:https://www.dur.ac.uk/resources/law/research/TheLifeintheUKCitizenshipTest-IsitunfitforPurpose.pdf+&cd=2&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=uk, [09/12/2015]

[9] J. Staufenberg, ‘Cameron announces ‘funding’ for English classes six months after £45 million cuts, PM accused of ‘isolating’ the group he wants to help’, Independent, Monday 18 January 2016

[10] David Cameron, Extremism: PM speech, At Ninestiles School in Birmingham, Prime Minister David Cameron set out his plans to address extremism, 20 July 2015

[11] The Casey Review, A review into opportunity and integration, Executive Summary, Dame Louise Casey DBE CB, December 2016, p.5

[12] ibid, p.16. para. 70

[13] ibid

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