Integration: A Challenge in Principle, in Policy and in Practice

Eugene Quinn is National Director of the Jesuit Refugee Service (Ireland)

The economic boom of the Celtic Tiger years has transformed Ireland from a country of origin into a country of destination. Sustained and stellar economic growth from the early 1990s not only persuaded thousands of Irish nationals to return but attracted non Irish national migrant workers in large numbers. They were responding to the recruitment efforts of Irish employers who, faced with the significant skill and labour shortages that were a consequence of the boom, began to look overseas to fill vacancies.

In the year ending April 2006, immigration into Ireland reached 86,900, which is the highest figure recorded since the Central Statistics Office started its series of annual migration estimates in 1987. Almost half (43 per cent) of immigrants were nationals of the ten countries which joined the European Union on 1 May 2004.1

Far fewer in numbers than migrant workers, but still significant by comparison to earlier decades, have been the numbers of people coming to Ireland over the past ten years to seek asylum. Under the Geneva Convention, to which Ireland is a party, the country is required to offer protection to persons seeking refuge who have ‘a well-founded fear of persecution’ on certain specified grounds. In 1992, less than fifty people came to Ireland seeking asylum. From 1995 there was a rapid increase in the numbers applying for asylum, reaching a peak of over 11,000 in 2002. Following the citizenship referendum in June 2004 and subsequent legislative changes, and consistent with underlying trends internationally, the number of asylum applications has fallen dramatically. In 2006, there were just over 4,300 claims for asylum in Ireland. Less than 10 per cent of applicants for asylum in Ireland receive refugee status, with a small additional number obtaining leave to remain in the country.

The Central Statistics Office has estimated that, with continued inward migration and an increasing number of immigrants becoming long-term residents, the number of non Irish born people resident in the country could exceed one million by 2030 – by comparison to 400,000 at the time of the 2002 Census.2

With the changing face (and indeed faces) of Ireland, integration represents one of the most important challenges to modern Irish society: a challenge in principle, in policy and in practice.

Eugene Quinn is National Director of the Jesuit Refugee Service (Ireland)

Integration to Date – A Subjective Assessment

The Economic and Social Research Institute study, Migrants’ Experiences of Racism and Xenophobia in Ireland, published in November 2006, presents the findings of the first large-scale survey in Ireland of migrants’ subjective experiences of racism and discrimination and of their sense of belonging in Ireland.3 The survey, conducted in 2005, covered two groups of immigrants: work permit holders and asylum seekers. It found that over one-third of respondents had experienced racism in public places, including public transport. Of work permit holders, over 30 per cent had experienced insults or harassment in the workplace.4

The ESRI study was the Irish part of a survey carried out in twelve EU Member States. The findings showed that, in general, levels of reported racism in Ireland tended to be lower than those in the other countries, particularly Southern European countries. Reports of being treated badly by the police and of being denied access to housing were much less common among immigrants in Ireland than in most other countries.
The section of the survey on ‘subjective integration’ measured people’s attitudes to and feelings of belonging in the host country, as well as the extent of their social contact with the Irish people.
Overall, about 40 per cent of immigrants stated that they intended to stay in Ireland permanently. As might be expected, substantially more asylum seekers indicated their intention to stay for good. Around two-thirds of all migrants reported that they socialise ‘often’ or ‘always’ with Irish people and that they found it easy to make friends with Irish people.5

Noting that migration is a very recent phenomenon in Ireland, the authors of the study raise the question whether racism will increase or decrease as migrant communities become more established and increase as a proportion of the population. They point out that the fact that the Irish experience of migration coincided with very rapid economic growth and vastly increased employment opportunities, which may have had an important bearing on the survey’s findings in relation to experiences of racism and integration. “It is possible that the economic boom has created an auspicious context for the reception of migrants in Ireland.”6

Integration: A Challenge in Principle
There is considerable academic debate on the subject on how integration is to be defined. However, there is no generally agreed understanding of what exactly is integration or how it might be achieved. As one writer has put it:

Definitions of integration are sketchy or altogether absent, and there has been little theoretical reflection on how to measure integration or on the facts that determine it. Consequently, our understanding of the integration process remains incomplete.7

Among the theoretical models of integration which have been elaborated, ‘assimilation’, ‘differentiation’ and ‘multiculturalism’ have long been particularly prominent. In recent years, ‘interculturalism’ has gained a more dominant position in the discourse on migration and integration.
Some commentators posit the view that integration has become the new buzzword, enabling us to disavow, overlook, and ultimately avoid naming and confronting racism, especially when, they suggest, racism is inherent in state policy.8
The European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE),9 which has been to the fore in promoting the integration of refugees and other migrants, considers integration to be a process of change that is: which report
· Dynamic and two-way: it places demands on both receiving societies and individuals and/or the communities concerned;
· Long-term: from a psychological perspective, integration starts at the time of arrival in the country of final destination and is concluded when a refugee becomes an active member of that society from a legal, social, economic, educational and cultural perspective;
· Multi-dimensional: it relates both to the conditions for and actual participation in all aspects of the economic, social, cultural, civil and political life of the host country as well as to the refugees’ own perception of acceptance by and membership in the host society.10

Interestingly, the recent report by the International Organization for Migration for the National Economic and Social Council (NESC), Managing Migration in Ireland: A Social and Economic Analysis, stands back from becoming “embroiled in the theoretical debate” and questions whether, for policy development purposes, integration “needs to be distinguished from other closely related terms, such as adaptation, acculturation, absorption, assimilation and incorporation?”. For the purposes of the NESC report, integration is defined as “the adjustments that result from interactions (or their lack) between immigrants and mainstream Irish society.”11
To date, in Ireland, the development of integration measures has focused on the needs of refugees and has been largely shaped by the findings of an Interdepartmental Working Group set up in December 1998 to “review the arrangements for integrating persons granted refugee status or permission to remain in Ireland”. In its report, Integration: A Two Way Process, the Working Group defined integration as follows:

Integration means the ability to participate to the extent that a person needs and wishes in all of the major components of society, without having to relinquish his or her own cultural identity

An important impetus for Ireland to expand its understanding of and response to integration needs so as to include all migrants, and not just refugees, comes from the EU Common Basic Principles on the integration of migrants. These principles were agreed by all EU Member States in November 2004 and aim “to assist Member States in formulating integration policies by offering them a … guide of basic principles against which they can judge and asses their own efforts.” The first principle reasserts that: “Integration is a dynamic, two-way process of mutual accommodation by all immigrants and residents of Member States.”13

Integration: A Challenge in Policy

The development of policy in relation to integration has to be viewed in the context of overall immigration policy. Up until recently in Ireland immigration policy has been reactive rather proactive, driven initially by asylum applications and then by labour migration trends.

Ireland was caught unawares by the rapid increase in numbers seeking asylum in the mid-nineties. The administrative infrastructure to process applications was totally inadequate, and no specific services to meet the particular needs of people seeking asylum. Until the Refugee Act 1996, there had been no primary legislation on immigration or asylum since the 1935 Aliens Act. The 1996 Act initiated a period of rapid legislative reform: it was followed by the Immigration Act 1999 (governing the detention and removal of foreign nationals from the state); the Illegal Immigrant Trafficking Act 2000 (creating an offence of trafficking), and the Immigration Act 2003 (introducing carrier sanctions).

Since the start of the new century, the needs of the labour market have drawn attention to the legal and socio-economic position of migrant workers. Between 1999 and 2003 the number of work permits issued by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment increased from 6,000 to almost 48,000. The Employment Permits Act 2003 was introduced to facilitate free access to the Irish labour market by nationals from the then EU Accession States. The Employment Permits Act 2006 sets out procedures relating to the application for, and the granting or refusal of, work permits. It outlines new protections for migrant workers, and establishes a new system for highly skilled workers, which the Government has likened to a ‘green card’ system (although this has been strongly contested by some NGOs).

As noted already, integration measures in Ireland have been articulated primarily in terms of refugee integration, driven by the report of Interdepartmental Working Group in 1999. In that report, the Group concluded that the two most pressing issues relating to integration were the need for an appropriate organisational structure for developing integration policy and the development of a comprehensive strategy for implementing integration policy in Ireland.14

In fact, new organisational structures, in the form of the Reception and Integration Agency within the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, were introduced quite rapidly. However, the development of a comprehensive strategy for implementing integration policy has effectively been on hold, awaiting the articulation of an integration policy beyond the initial recommendations made in Integration: A Two Way Process. Nevertheless, in practical terms, a degree of progress has been made, including making some services more accessible to refugees through the provision of information in several languages and a limited telephone interpretation service for medical practitioners.

More significantly, the Irish Government launched the National Action Plan Against Racism (NPAR) in January 2005. The NPAR originates from commitments given by governments, including the Irish Government, at the United Nations World Conference Against Racism in South Africa in September 2001. The overall aim of the National Action Plan is to provide strategic direction to combat racism and to foster the development of a more inclusive, intercultural society in Ireland. The Plan is underpinned by five objectives: effective protection and redress against racism; economic inclusion and equality of opportunity; accommodating diversity in service provision; recognition and awareness of diversity; and full participation in Irish society.

Coinciding with the launch of the National Action Plan, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Michael McDowell TD, announced the allocations made in relation to the fifth ‘Know Racism’ grant scheme, under which organisations working towards the objectives of the NPAR could receive funding. A total of €250,000 was allocated to forty-four projects throughout the country.

Despite these positive initiatives, the limitations of Ireland’s integration policy are all too evident. As Sarah Spencer of the Oxford Centre on Migration Policy and Society said in a report published in 2006:

While some political priority has been given to tackling racism and discrimination, a significant barrier to migrant integration, the political momentum to develop a broader strategy for the integration of migrants has been lacking. Ireland has no system of support for new arrivals to assist in labour market and social integration nor a coherent strategy to dismantle the barriers migrants face, beyond discrimination.15

The NESC report also draws attention to the fact that Ireland’s few integration programmes are largely confined to refugees. Asylum seekers are deliberately excluded from integration measures, a restrictive element of government policy designed to eliminate the so-called ‘asylum-shopping’ phenomenon. In order to serve the broader immigrant and minority population, the NESC report recommends that programmes and services should be expanded in three ways so that they will:

  • extend beyond refugees to include all classes of immigrants;
  • reach beyond the head of household to include other member of the family; and
  • extend beyond immigrants to address issues confronting second-generation migrants.16

In a chapter entitled ‘Fostering Integration’, the NESC Report says that Ireland’s immigration strategies to date have been “quite rudimentary”. “They were shaped by a desire to maintain orderly labour markets, to offer protection to refugees and to prevent discrimination but were essentially reactive and accommodative.”17 It goes on to say that the National Action Plan on Racism and the Scheme of the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill “hint at the fact that broader strategies are being contemplated, though neither document sets out a bold vision for integrating immigration management with integration and with a larger set of high-level strategic objectives.”18

NESC makes five critical recommendations to assist policymakers to navigate the complex issues that arise in seeking to foster the integration of migrants in Irish society. (These recommendations are summarised in Table 1.) The adoption and implementation of the recommendations would have significant practical implications in terms of resources and the development of the capacities of a wide range of stakeholders – public, private and voluntary.

Table 1: Summary of NESC Critical Recommendations to Foster Integration

Recommendation 1

Create a clear strategic vision to mobilise society

The need to establish a clear strategic vision for immigration and integration derives from the complexity of the issues involved and the fact that the Irish Government is not the only stakeholder. Business, unions, non-governmental organisations, migrants and the public at large need to be mobilised for integration to succeed.
Recommendation 2

Integrate policies as well as people

The NPAR needs to be integrated with the Immigration, Residency and Protection Bill, with envisioned secondary legislation, with citizenship legislation and a host of integration-related measures in the fields of health, education, housing and justice. Consideration should be given to a single migration agency that could exercise leadership.
Recommendation 3

Act locally through horizontal partnerships

Integration takes place at the level of neighbourhoods, workplaces and schools. It results from day-to-day contact between newcomers and residents and it depends on the willingness and capacity of public and private institutions to respond to migrant needs. Integration projects need to be planned, coordinated and delivered locally through broad horizontal partnerships between local service providers and community agencies.
Recommendation 4

Privilege social interaction over common values

Integration is a process and the manner in which the process is conducted is as important as its results. Implicit in this is the idea that values are by-products and not ends: the result, not the precursor, of living, working and socialising together, particularly on projects in the public domain. The Government needs to address the question “how we might best live together?”.
Recommendation 5

Focus on the long term

The long-term horizon requires the development of many capacities within public and private spheres to respond to the needs of both migrants and hosts – including a capacity to mobilise public support; a capacity for political action; a capacity to coordinate policies and programmes at both national and local levels; a capacity to leverage non-governmental support; and a capacity to evaluate policies and to transfer the lessons to other locales.

Perhaps the most significant strategic migration policy decision for Ireland relates to the extent to which today’s migrants are to be considered as temporary workers or as immigrants who are expected to settle.

As the NESC report puts it: “To date, migration has been viewed as a temporary phenomenon and not part of a long-term strategy to promote economic and social goals.”19 It adds that the shape of Ireland’s future integration strategy will be contingent “on whether Ireland embraces permanent or temporary migration, and in particular how it wishes to treat migrants arriving from non-EEA countries.”20

An indication that there is beginning to be official recognition that immigration may be less transient than assumed heretofore is provided in the Scheme of the Immigration, Residence and Protection Bill, published in September 2006. This proposes to include in legislation a provision for a long-term resident status for certain limited categories of immigrants to accord them status and rights similar to those enjoyed by Irish citizens.

Integration: A Challenge in Practice
In view of the fact that it is only ten years since Ireland became a country of significant immigration, and of the reality that the development of specific policies on integration has been extremely slow, it is hardly surprising that integration in practice is in its infancy in Ireland.

Despite the growing demand that integration projects and services should be expanded in scope to include all migrants, many continue to be targeted primarily at refugees. For example, English language proficiency is a prerequisite to full participation in Irish life and society. Yet ‘Integrate Ireland Language and Training’, which has provided free education for adult refugees since 2001, does not have a mandate to offer the same service to the wider immigrant community. The problem of inadequate provision of publicly supplied services is exacerbated by the fact that courses in private language schools are not affordable for many migrants.

Since 2001, the European Refugee Fund (ERF) has been funding projects to promote integration. One such project is being undertaken by the Jesuit Refugee Service (Ireland), which has been running a refugee integration project, Community Links, in Dublin’s inner city sine 2002. Through its work, Community Links has become acutely aware that not only the capacity of refugees but the capacity of refugee-led organisations needs to be strengthened. “Refugees need to be the subjects, not the objects, of change.”21

The issue of a migrant voice in research and policy analysis as well as in the formulation of policies and services affecting migrants is critical. A 2002 report, Research, Development and Critical Interculturalism: A Study of the Participation of Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Research and Development-Based Initiatives, highlighted concerns raised by those involved in research, community development and development education projects, that:

  • There is a lack of effective inclusion and participation by refugees and asylum seekers at all levels of such projects;
  • The lack of participation has led to feelings of exploitation and burnout, as well as suspicion regarding the agendas underpinning these projects;
  • The policy of funding mainstream organisations to carry out projects that minority ethnic community members should be undertaking themselves is hampering the development of minority-led organisations and networks.22

In order to be able to fully participate in and contribute to Irish society, it is essential that migrants are able to have ready access to information regarding their rights and entitlements. The NESC report noted that accessing information on their rights in Ireland has been a major issue for migrants.

It notes also that government departments not directly involved in immigration policy have not taken the needs of migrants sufficiently into account in the development of their policies. Its says: “All social services, whether involving health, housing, education or social welfare will have to recognize that Ireland has become a much more diverse country because of immigration.”23

The community and voluntary sector, through local migrant groups and non governmental organisations (NGOs), often takes a primary role in welcoming migrants and helping them to integrate. Despite the extent to which voluntary sector organisations have direct contact with migrants – as well as their strong motivation to affect positive social change – these groups operate under significant resource, and in particular financial, constraints.

State funding available to NGOs tends to be tied to specific outcomes with only minimal flexibility to enable the adaptation of programmes to meet the demands of a very dynamic environment. Administrative requirements can place a huge burden on organisations, especially those that are small scale, and can tie up significant amounts of their limited resources. This is not to deny the need to be transparent and accountable for the use of state funds: however, the administrative burden needs to be proportionate. The fear persists that excessively stringent funding guidelines result in projects and services for migrants being ‘funding driven’ rather than ‘need driven’.

There are many issues affecting the lives of migrants where policy (or the lack of policy) impacts significantly on their ability to integrate, hampers the efforts of organisations and groups that seek to assist them, and indeed undermines the positive effects of integration measures. Such issues include: family reunification, the habitual residency clause, exploitation and employment rights, the right to work for asylum seekers, access to third level education, inadequate use of migrant skills and the absence of a permanent immigration channel.

A lack of knowledge, data and understanding of migrants and their circumstances has been identified as a key constraint in planning and in the development of evidence based policy. Sarah Spencer in her recent report on the role of the sector suggested that the Government should improve “the collection and transparency of data on all categories of migrants in Ireland, their participation in the labour market, needs and uses of public services, in order to strengthen the evidence base for policy development and for NGO policy submissions.” She proposed also that NGOs could develop “evidence based workable proposals to tackle the policy issues that will be on the government’s future agenda”.24

In its reflections on the role of the community and voluntary sector, the NESC report notes that: “Ireland’s integrative capacity is still fairly rudimentary: NGOs have shown themselves as being adept at advocacy, but their capacity to deliver assistance and services to migrants is still weak, especially outside Dublin and other major urban centres.”25

Perhaps the fundamental problem with the Irish Government’s approach to integration has been to start with structures and policies in the absence of an overarching guiding framework or vision. The NESC report highlights the need to build support across a wide range of stakeholders so that a clear vision of how integration might contribute to the creation of a dynamic, secure and socially cohesive Irish society can be developed. Coherent plans can then be developed to implement this vision across various sectors and involving a range of actors (for example, state institutions, employers, trade unions, media, community organisations, migrant groups and the general public).

The NESC Report points out that there exists a considerable degree of “latent sympathy for migrants as a result of the country’s recent, and harsh, experience with emigration. It remains to connect this latent empathy with local action in the service of immigrant integration.”26 In this process, it is critical that the migrant voice is actively listened to and that there is real engagement with migrant communities in the development of policies and services for their benefit.

The Government needs to answer the key question: does it consider migration a temporary or a permanent phenomenon? In its concluding comments on how integration might be fostered, the NESC report states: “Ultimately for integration to succeed, migrants will have to be seen as potential assets and not as charitable works or temporary aids to facilitate labour adjustment.”27

1. Central Statistics Office, Population and Migration Estimates, April 2006, Dublin: Central Statistics Office, 2006.
2. Central Statistics Office, Population and Labour Force Projections 2006–2036, Dublin: Stationery Office, 2004.
3. Frances McGinnity, Philip O’Connell, Emma Quinn and James Williams, Migrants’ Experience of Racism and Discrimination in Ireland: Survey Report, Dublin: ESRI, 2006.
4. Ibid., p. 33.
5. Ibid., pp. 27–29.
6. Ibid., p. 65.
7. Tom Kuhlman, “The Economic Integration of Refugees in Developing Countries: A Research Model”, Journal of Refugee Studies, 1991; 4 (1), pp. 1–20.
8. Ronit Lentin and Robbie McVeigh, After Optimism? Ireland, Racism and Globalisation, Dublin: Metro Eireann, 2006.
9. The European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) is a network of more than sixty-five refugee-assisting NGOs spanning both the EU and neighbouring countries.
10. European Council on Refugees and Exiles, Good Practice Guide on the Integration of Refugees in the European Union, Brussels: European Council on Refugees and Exiles, 1999.
11. National Economic and Social Council, Managing Migration in Ireland: A Social and Economic Analysis, A Report by the International Organization for Migration for the National Economic and Social Council of Ireland, Dublin: National Economic and Social Development Office, 2006, p. 151.
12. Integration: A Two Way Process, Report to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform by the Interdepartmental Working Group on the Integration of Refugees in Ireland, Dublin: Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, 1999, p. 9.
13. Draft conclusions of the Council and the Representatives of the Governments of the Member States on the establishment of Common Basic principles for immigrant integration policy in the European Union, Brussels, 18 November 2004. 14776/04. MIGR 105
14. Integration: A Two Way Process, op. cit., p. 50.
15. Sarah Spencer, Migration and Integration: The Impact of NGOs on Future Policy Development in Ireland, Oxford: Centre on Migration Policy and Society (COMPAS), University of Oxford, 2006, p. 18.
16. National Economic and Social Council, op. cit., p. 153.
17. Ibid., p. 168.
18. Ibid., p. 168.
19. Ibid., p. 201.
20. Ibid., p. 201.
21. In an interview with Ruth Diaz-Ufano, Coordinator, Community Links integration project on 26 January 2007.
22. Alice Feldman, Carmen Frese and Tarig Yousif, Research, Development and Critical Interculturalism: A Study of the Participation of Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Research and Development-Based Initiatives, Dublin: Social Science Research Centre, University College Dublin, 2002.
23. National Economic and Social Council, op. cit., p. 145.
24. Sarah Spencer, op. cit., pp. 56– 57.
25. National Economic and Social Council, op. cit., p. 164.
26. Ibid., p. 164.
27. Ibid., p. 202.