Refugees and Immigrants in the Nordic 1

By Buch, Anders; Berthou, Sara Kristine Gløjmar et al. | Nordic Journal of Working Life Studies, November 2018 | Go to article overview

Refugees and Immigrants in the Nordic 1


Buch, Anders, Berthou, Sara Kristine Gløjmar, Bredgaard, Thomas, Nordic Journal of Working Life Studies


Immigration to the Nordic countries has increased significantly in the last 40 years (Pettersen & Østby 2013:76). Although exact data are hard to come by, it is clear that the term integration, albeit vague and often undefined, has become central in public and political debates. A central premise of most of the debates is the claim that newly arrived immigrants and refugees have not become part of their host societies to a satisfactory extent. Subsequently, an increasing number of initiatives and laws have been introduced in the Nordic countries with the intention to promote integration.

Integration is itself a recent and contested concept. It was not until the early 1990s that it was used in debates on immigrants and refugees (Olwig & Pæ rregaard 2007:17). Since then though, the primary usage of the concept refers to the process by which immigrants and refugees adjust to their host countries-a usage that is in fact close to the formal definition of 'assimilation'. When an independent Ministry of Integration was established in Denmark in 2001 for instance, there was little doubt that immigrants and refugees were the objects of its concern (Ibid.)

From the 1990s, a whole administrative apparatus has been established to achieve integration in the Nordic countries. Integration sectors emerged employing project managers, teachers, case workers, and consultants. Policies, laws, and civil society initiatives were launched, and research fields within academia and private research entities set up. The lives of immigrants and refugees became of public concern in the name of integration, the vagueness of the term allowing for and legitimising a broad range of interventions (Ejrnæ s 2002:1-2).

This focus on integration emerged 2-3 decades after the large flows of labor migration, in the 1960s, when the Nordic countries recruited guest workers from non-European countries, such as Pakistan and Turkey (Pettersen & Østby 2013:77). When many of these workers decided to remain, the focus of integration policies was directed at the (foreign) cultural traditions as a contrast to the Nordic way of life. Distinctions were made and explored between different types of migrants and between perceived traditional migrant cultures and modern majority cultures of the host societies. The focus was on the role of migrants as cultural minorities. Later on, during the late 1990s, immigrants were also perceived to be social and political problems that society needed to address (Yvonne Mørck 1998:35).

During the last two decades, integration policy and employment policies have become two sides of the same coin (Brochman & Hagelund 2012; Hagelund & Kavli 2009; Thomsen 2004). Integration programmes for newly arrived migrants and refugees now consist of employment services such as labor market oriented language education, industry training, and company internships. The co-joining of these two areas has marked a shift in how integration processes are organised. Whereas before the primary marker of difference to be adjusted and integrated were mainly cultural, social, and religious, it now has to do with economic integration and work capability. As a result, employment services is often the first actor to report to after residence permit is obtained.

Several circumstances help explore how integration is now practiced: First, some perceive the growing group of migrants from nonwestern countries as a socioeconomic problem that could harm the Nordic welfare model, due to the increased economic burden (Emerek 2003:4). Second, others perceive migrants as a possible solution to a demographic problem, in which the working population of the host countries is decreasing, which in the long term can lead to a lack of labor force and decreasing competitiveness (Brochman & Hagelund 2012). Third, dependence on the welfare state potentially leads to social and economic marginalisation, while economic independence strengthens active participation and identification with the majority population (Thomsen 2004:21). …

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