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Thursday, 23 May, 2002, 09:59 GMT 10:59 UK
Integration Norwegian style
Norwegian children
Norwegians view themselves as an open, tolerant nation

Arezo Naghavian fled Iran for Norway in 1987 when she was 15. She married her childhood boyfriend here, and now lives with her family in a leafy Oslo suburb.

She regards herself as "integrated" into Norwegian society, but hastens to qualify that expression.

"The word 'integration' has negative connotations in Norway today, because the Progress Party has almost managed to monopolise words like integration and immigrants," she says.

In the 15 years she has lived here, Arezo has witnessed the extraordinary rise of the far-right, anti-immigration Progress Party - from obscure oddity to Norway's second largest political party.

Immigration debate

As in other European countries, Norwegian anti-immigrant voices have led the debate on immigration and how to integrate those arriving here.

Iranian immigrant Arezo Naghavian
Arezo feels 'integratred' in Norwegian society
The Progress Party's main argument is that anyone wanting to live in Norway should be made to adapt to Norwegian values, culture and morals.

Some within the party also see immigrants from non-European cultures as a threat to the Norwegian way of life.

Last year, the racially motivated killing of a 15-year-old black boy shocked many who, until then, had not considered racism to be a serious problem here.

Still, the Progress Party's success at the ballot box is largely seen as a result of its immigration policies.

'No integration strategy'

Arezo Naghavian feels the Progress Party is largely to blame for what she sees as misguided policies on integration.

Rally in Oslo
Last year's racist killing triggered mass protests
But she doesn't hesitate to put some blame on the mainstream parties.

"Successive Norwegian governments have never had a proper strategy for integration," she says. "They have held back the debate because they've been afraid to be called racist.

"To me and other immigrants this is a signal that we are not even worthy of debate, we are not equally worthy citizens," she says.

Norway is host to 250,000 immigrants - about 5.6% of its population. In Arezo's small suburb there are people from 124 nations.

Stereotypes

But she says that when immigration is debated, all non-native Norwegians are talked about as one group.

Carl Hagen
Carl Hagen leads the Progress Party
"If Norway is serious about having a policy of integration, politicians must first of all stop putting everybody in one category. These are all individuals we are talking about."

Young people with immigrant backgrounds are most often the victims of this kind of stereotyping, she says.

"Whenever these kids are involved in serious trouble, the first thing politicians do is to call in religious leaders - most often an imam.

"Why? They don't call a priest when Norwegian youths commit crimes. They talk to sociologists, psychologists and community leaders."

Misguided integration

Arezo and her husband chose not to teach their children Persian. They wanted to give them an identity which would correspond to where they were born and where they were going to grow up.

But sometimes they wonder if they did the right thing.

Recently they discovered their youngest son had been taught Norwegian for immigrants at primary school for three years, while his classmates with Norwegian backgrounds were given ordinary Norwegian lessons.

"They looked at his surname, saw he had two 'foreign' parents, and concluded he was an immigrant child with immigrant needs," she explains.

At first Arezo and her husband found it hard to believe, but now she says this is a typical example of what is wrong with Norway's attempts at integration.

She fears situations like this can make children doubt their true identity - and what is worse, that they start feeling discriminated against at a very early stage.


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