Ensuring Diversity Becomes an Asset for Everyone

April 17th, 2013

Thorbjørn Jagland, Secretary General of the Council of Europe, believes that the key to integration is the interaction between migrants and the receiving society. Empowering newcomers to build their sense of belonging is the “only appropriate policy choice in a democratic society.”

 Read Thorbjørn Jagland’s opening essay to the Council of Europe’s Guide for Policy-Makers and Practitioners – Building Migrants’ Belonging through Positive Interactions.

Europe today is a continent of diversity.

Today, few topics attract more public attention than the struggle to accommodate this diversity and draw enrichment from it. Whether or not governments decide to replace their shrinking populations of working age by large-scale immigration, this diversity is likely to increase in the years to come.

Governments are responding by developing integration policies and the Council of Europe has been very active in providing support. The Council of Europe has itself been an important actor in accompanying and generalizing this process. In 2002, the Ministers of the Council of Europe member States responsible for migration affairs undertook to develop and implement integration policies founded on the principles of human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

But, whilst much has been achieved, two alarming trends appear to have taken root. On the one hand, many people consider that the core objectives of integration policies have failed, leaving in their place unfulfilled promises of equal treatment and polarized or fragmented societies. On the other hand, the failures of these policies have strengthened the voice of those who only see in migrants and their different traditions and customs a threat to public order, national identity and their own security.

Indeed, the simple recognition of diversity cannot be sufficient in itself. Whilst diversity acknowledges difference within our societies and our own multiple and complex identities it does not provide a guarantee for social justice or harmony. This can only be achieved through the processes of social cohesion.

Giving migrants a voice, recognizing their true value and building their sense of belonging to receiving societies, in short empowering migrants, is the only appropriate policy choice in a democratic society. It is this choice that will enable us to ensure fair and just societies for all, and allow migrants to both be integrated and feel integrated.

The key is interaction, enabling migrants to engage with people in the receiving society as well as with each other, whether it be in the workplace, in their neighbourhood, at school, in the hospital or doctor’s surgery or in the offices of the local administration.

Migrants have an essential role to play in our societies and economies and we cannot afford to allow the advocates of racism and intolerance undermine our democratic values and negate the human dignity we owe to everyone whatever their nationality, origin or race. Promoting interaction between migrants and host societies will, through greater mutual understanding, help break down barriers and dispel xenophobic sentiments.

This is the thinking behind this publication. I hope you will find it helpful in your efforts to ensure diversity becomes an asset for everyone.

Mr Thorbjørn Jagland is the 13th Secretary General of the Council of Europe. The Secretary General has the overall responsibility for the strategic management of the Organisation. Mr Jagland was elected in September 2009. The former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Norway, Thorbjørn Jagland was also the President of the Storting (Norwegian Parliament) and the leader of the Norwegian Labour Party. He is currently the Chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, which awards the Nobel Peace Prize.

Source:  Orton, Andrew.  Guide for Policy-Makers and Practitioners: Building Migrants’ Belonging through Positive Interactions: Connecting Recognition, Participation and Empowerment to Improve Social Cohesion. Strasbourg: Council of Europe, 2012.

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