Integration work of immigrant organizations

It is often said when speaking of integration problems. Prevention should start at the minority groups own arenas, in the home, in the Mosque, at school, engaging with parents and youth. Yet what is meant by integration often follows a shifting political ideology.

In the 1970s the aim was to foster cultural identity and work against assimilation or denial of minority cultural practices. This also had its local context with the Norwegian Same people who had been denied their cultural heritage for years. Throughout the 1990s and 2000s the political focus is rather on securing more participation from minority communities to hinder isolation, economic marginalization and lack of interaction with the Norwegian mainstream society.

A new report from Fafo explores the role of Minority organizations for integration in Norway. The researchers focus on those who receive governmental financial support for integration work and voluntary activities. An aim of the study was to see how this support is working. To see this they have spoken to the muncipal authorities who allocate the support to the immigrant organizations. The support given to immigrant organizations is seen as motivated politically by the need to create increased participation in democratic arenas and organizations and increased contact across ethnic groups, thereby instilling greater trust and good relations with Norwegian society.

In the report. the immigrant organizations describe the funding as essential for their activities. From their point of view, however, these activities keep alive traditions and customs from their home land. They express a strong need to gather round their cultural heritages. Moreover, they describe the difficulties of becoming Norwgeian as not having so much to do with education, work participation, voting and the like. Rather, it is felt that one is never accepted truly as a fellow Norwegian due to ethnicity. One feels that to become Norwegian one must totally abolish one´s different cultural background. Therefore, it is seen as paramount to encourage one´s own cultural background and values within the Norwegian society.

On a national level there are more non-immigrant organizations applying for this funding. However, in Oslo there are actually more immigrant organizations applying for this kind of support. One of the pitfalls are that immigrant organizations are often small and lacking in resources. Since the municipality prefers supporting thos who organize events and happenings where people can meet and interact, these organizations are at a disadvantage. Not everyone of them is able to organize a Mela-festival or something short of it.

Nevertheless, the researchers find that many organizations receive small amounts of support all the same. On the other hand, they find that many municipalities do not work strategically to include and involve immigrant organizations. Proactive involvement and conducting visits and meetings with immigrant organizations is seen as lacking, as well as a key factor for success. Further, where there is little physical contact between the muncipal emplyees and immigrant representatives, the repot finds there is also more distrust towards the latter.

Obviously, this report shows something we all have seen. Namely that the purely bureaucratic management of integration does not foster engagement and trust from minority actors. Many municpal executives will have to exit their office doors to create better integration.

- Jørgen Flatabø