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Iraqi Association Comment

Iraqi Association Comment

Integration is the Key

When Trevor Phillips, formerly the head of the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) and now in charge of the Commission for Equality and Human Rights, mentioned that Britain was "sleepwalking into segregation" he sparked a major public debate. Are we "sleepwalking to segregation"? Is multiculturalism to blame and, if so, can we now pronounce it dead? And how can we help communities to integrate to become part of this society?

The recent report "Our Shared Future", by the Commission on Integration and Cohesion (CIC), chaired by Darra Singh, even avoided using the word "multiculturalism", claiming that it means such different things to different people that it is no longer a useful term. Beside that, the commission's report, Our Shared Future, took the view that funding minority groups increases segregation and should become the exception. But this analogy is wrong, Britain is a country containing many cultural groups, is obviously multicultural. That's what the word means. It's a fact, a state of affairs.

However, multicultural society is not about imposing your way of life on others. Often sociologists and politicians have coined the term not as another way of saying "tolerance" or "integration" but as an alternative approach to either. Integration is not about the "melting pot" theory, just like the old American ideal and France. For exiled communities, integration is about successful settlement, including employment, access to services, equal rights and making positive contribution towards the host society with a sense of belonging. The settlers must be able to keep their cultural identities, and to compliment the dominant majority identity of the host society.

The analogy of funding refugee groups will lead to segregation is totally flawed and not based on research. For example, every year we help more than 6000 people with settlement needs and the vision of making a positive contribution to this society. Many refugee groups have a responsibility to build bridges between communities in order to improve understanding and acceptance. Grass root community groups provide valuable local services, tailored to meet the needs of people whom mainstream services frequently fail to deliver.

What is failing us is the lack of resources and recognition. We do not want to reinvent the wheel when it comes to settlement of those who fled their home country persecution. Integration is the key to promote and assist successful settlements. By helping exiled community groups, they will build their self-sufficiency and will enable Diasporas to take an active part in civil society. Removing support would disadvantage the most vulnerable and socially excluded. Yes, we must all promote integration, but we should never apologise for offering support to those who needs it.

Due to the forced nature of their migration and their experiences, compared with other migrant groups, refugees will often have specific needs that have to be met in order to support their integration. They will often be one of the most vulnerable groups in society while also being the most resilient. It is therefore important that the special needs of refugees are recognised in integration policies and practice, including those of specific groups such as women and children, within an overall policy of mainstreaming.

The debate often places the onus on the responsibilities of refugees to integrate. But settlement has a two-way process which begins from the day a refugee arrives, and to assist them to live in harmony with the host population of which they form a part. It is therefore places demands both on receiving societies and on the individuals and communities concerned. But equally we do not want to see ghettos, even prosperous ones. What we want to see is the vision of bringing down the cultural barriers. For example, the sight of school playgrounds in which many races mingle happily without apparent consciousness of race, religion or colour is an ideal. We can break cultural barriers by mixing and by losing race consciousness.

February 2008



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