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Obstacles to integration - a European comparison

Political scientist Sarah Scuzzarello has compared migrants' integration in Malmö, Birmingham and Bologna. A surprising finding is that, although Bologna is the only city where the migrant groups studied do not possess formal rights to participate in elections, it is there that they have been able to gain some sort of foothold within decision-making processes, even if this remains, as in all cities, limited. The results of the study are presented in a new thesis from Lund University.

Sarah Scuzzarello compared what is meant by integration and what obstacles migrants face in three different European cities - Malmö, Bologna and Birmingham.

In Malmö, as in the rest of Sweden, migrants have extensive political rights. However, even if migrants have the right to vote in local elections, political participation is low and the municipality seems to do relatively little to change the situation. Instead the municipality puts its efforts into encouraging people from ethnic minorities to become involved in voluntary organisations and sports clubs.

"There is a top-down approach, where a dialogue is started with the migrants only once the integration project has been started or completed", says Sarah Scuzzarello.

Birmingham also has a top-down approach to integration policies. After riots in the early 2000s, the City Council established the Community Cohesion Forum. This body is a forum where different ethnic groups and a number of institutional bodies are represented and issues relating to integration are discussed. Recently the Forum has received criticism because little concrete action comes out of it and because many black and minority ethnic adults do not feel an affinity with those who claim to represent them.

In Italy, migrants do not participate in elections and the process of naturalisation is very complicated and presents high barriers to citizenship. Despite this, Sarah Scuzzarello considers that, compared to Malmö and Birmingham, migrants in Bologna have relatively favourable opportunities for gaining access to the decision-making process by means of advisory bodies at municipal, provincial and regional levels.

Even though non-European migrants do not have the right to vote, these bodies, whose members are directly elected, give them at least some opportunity to participate in policy-making in Bologna, says Sarah Scuzzarello.

She is careful to point out that in Italy there is strong variation in how different municipalities address migrants' integration. In other words, Bologna may be an atypical case in Italy, which in recent years has been characterised by increasing public hostility and restrictive policies towards migrants.

In Malmö integration is often equated with entry into the labour market. Sarah Scuzzarello thinks that this focus on the idea that integration must take place via paid work can be problematic.

"There are actually people who don't or can't work through no fault of their own. For them there is no plan B of how to enter into society", she says.

She also emphasises that Malmö City Council has done progressive work by serving as a role model for the private sector. A quarter of the municipality's employees were born abroad, which reflects the ethnic make-up of the city. However, she says that these aggregate figures should be viewed with caution, pointing out that only 10 per cent of senior managers are migrants, and that over 50 per cent of those who work in areas such as cleaning and catering for the municipality have a migrant background.

"Today it is migrants who fill the low-level service sector roles and there seems to have been surprisingly little discussion of whether this is really the outcome we are aiming for", says Sarah Scuzzarello.

Sarah Scuzzarello can be contacted at sarah.scuzzarello@svet.lu.se.

Pressofficer Ulrika Oredsson;

idw :: 11.06.2010