Magazine article UNESCO Courier

Guests, Immigrants, Minorities

Magazine article UNESCO Courier

Guests, Immigrants, Minorities

Article excerpt

How far is the integration of Europe's immigrant workers really possible?

THE modern nation-state, which is based on a universalist ideology, invented the concept of citizenship so as to include all people, irrespective of the communities to which they belong, as individuals with equal rights. But the cultural, linguistic and religious diversity of modern societies has persisted, to the point where the notion of minorities has re-emerged.

The term minority refers to a community which organizes itself around an identity that is different from that of society as a whole, which expresses that difference publicly and demands to be recognized for what it is. Such minorities may be religious, national or ethnic. National minorities demand recognition of a territory of their own within the nation-state. Regional minorities put forward certain specific claims arising out of their geographical location.

Ethnic minorities are more difficult to define precisely, since they encompass the twin concepts of cultural community and social class. In the United States, for example, in spite of the cultural diversity on which the nation is based, people disadvantaged not only by their ethnic, racial, national or religious origin, but also by social class, are designated as minorities.

In Europe, the large-scale immigration that has taken place since the 1960s has created similar situations. Yet in contrast to the practice in the United States, immigrant populations in Europe are not defined as minorities, but as immigres ("immigrants") in France and as Gastarbeiter ("guest workers") in Germany and Switzerland. Behind these differences in terminology, which reflect the influence of national thinking on the subject, a convergence between European immigration and integration policies can be seen.

Immigration in Europe grew out of efforts to promote economic reconstruction after years of war and stagnation. Some states, such as Germany, signed bilateral agreements with countries of the Mediterranean basin. Others, such as France, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, opened their doors to the peoples of their former colonies. Some, such as Germany, laid down a specific policy on immigration. Others, such as France and the United Kingdom, implicitly acknowledged that foreign workers were there to stay for some time. The immigrant workers themselves saw their situation as an opportunity to move up the social ladder back in their home countries. This economically-driven immigration movement was thus seen by both sides as a temporary expedient.

Today the fact that the immigrants and their families have settled permanently is paralleled by forms of integration that vary from group to group and from country to country. The ways in which immigrant communities set about organizing themselves are strongly influenced by the historical, economic, cultural and political links between their countries of origin and the host countries. Even so, a common pattern of activity can be discerned. In every country, immigrants mobilize in a bid to achieve equal rights to jobs and housing; they fight discrimination; they react against racism; and they seek to obtain some form of political representation that will bring them respect and recognition.


Demands for a say in political matters are voiced through a variety of associations. Since the 1980s, almost every European nation has seen the rapid spread of associations of this type catering specifically for the children of immigrants. The networks they form, which are based on shared national and religious loyalties, become channels for a mutual aid system providing, among other things, basic legal information on such matters as entry and residence rights and formalities, employment and housing.

In France, for example, once an immigrant worker has settled in the country and so has legal status, the associations promote his or her integration into society through language and literacy courses for adults and education and training programmes for the young. …

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