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Last Updated: Monday, 15 October 2007, 06:23 GMT 07:23 UK
Analysis: Integrating migrants
By Dominic Casciani
BBC News

Swiss People's Party poster
The Swiss People's Party's slogan says "For more security"
It is a controversial poster with a very simple political message: three white Swiss sheep, kicking out their black neighbour.

The Swiss People's Party has been accused of blatant racism, yet it believes its recent poster was legitimate - and that some immigrants should be sent packing.

The politics of migration are often emotive - but should Europe's citizens also be asking whether states do enough to integrate those eventually allowed in?

That is the issue at the heart of a detailed study into how 25 European Union nations, plus three others, treat more than 20 million foreign-born minorities across the continent.

The Migration Integration Policy Index (Mipex) may come with a technocratic-sounding Brussels acronym, but the pages of data reveal hidden stories and subtleties about the history of migration to and within the continent.

It provides a snapshot of how migration has been handled by the biggest economies on the block - but also of the domestic political challenges that migration poses to societies.

So how was this study compiled and what did it conclude? Researchers looked at laws and policies in each country and drew up a list of what they saw as an ideal climate for integrating migrants into a society.

The key factors were rights in the labour force, opportunities to settle and naturalise, political freedoms and humanitarian issues such as permits for families to follow.

The researchers did not interview migrants; instead they scored each nation on 140 indicators to provide a snapshot of the legal position.

Menu of nations

So if you were an immigrant weighing up job opportunities in 28 different nations, which should you go for?

According to the results, you should head for Sweden which in true Eurovision style won near full marks from the international jury of researchers.

Its foreign workers are able to move freely from job to job after just one year - and those who lose work get help learning Swedish and vocational training. It is easy to bring your family in after you - and once settled everyone can vote.

In contrast, Latvia came close to nul points with severe restrictions on work, settlement rights, political participation, topped off with what researchers concluded were weak anti-discrimination laws.

Tricky issues

The reality is of course a little more complex. The study is neither a migrant's equivalent of a good restaurant guide or an attempt to condemn nations for being too illiberal by the standards of Brussels-based thinkers. Statistics can, after all, mask experience.

Protesters in France against laws affecting migrants
Protest in France: Migrant's rights a hot topic in some nations

Take the UK's entry, for example. Britain scores well for its anti-discrimination laws - some of the first enacted anywhere in the world. But the study suggests they remain weakly enforced.

The UK also loses marks for not having any official measure for consulting migrants' groups. Mipex suggests such consultative bodies are a good idea - but in reality there is no consensus on their merit.

Some minorities believe these bodies give power to self-appointed "community leaders" who pursue their own agendas.

Another issue is compulsion. Should migrants be "forced" to integrate - such as through obligatory language classes. This is a live issue in countries worried about cultural fall-out.

But language classes are very often over subscribed, suggesting there are no shortage of migrant workers who want to learn.

Social conflict

In fact, what the study does most is highlight how migration policies are a reflection of domestic political mores and history.

African immigrants are intercepted by Italian coastguards
Domestic anxieties over new arrivals affects policies

Remember low-scoring Latvia? Most of its "migrants" are Russian-born people who were denied citizenship after the break-up of the USSR. Their restricted rights, compared with migrants elsewhere in the study, are a manifestation of Latvia's fears of Moscow as much as anything else.

France has some of the most developed anti-discrimination laws in Europe - but many migrant groups will readily tell you, in the wake of President Nicolas Sarkozy's tightening of immigration law, that the lot of a dark-skinned French citizen is not that rosy.

In contrast Sweden has long considered itself a beacon of moderate policy-making and so scores highly on what its laws say. It offers Swedish language classes and a whole suite of rights to migrants after just one year in the country.

In reality, the experience on the street is sometimes different: a 2006 study found a youth from an immigrant background had to put in three times more applications to land a job than others in society.

Export to import

And then there are countries which were once exporters of people. Ireland, the Celtic Tiger economy, has found itself attractive after two centuries of seeing people flee poverty.

This has led to an often fractious domestic debate over the rights of migrants in Irish society and the Mipex findings reflect this tension.

So while the report criticises Dublin on some key workers' rights, it also notes the courts last year gave residency rights to foreigners whose children are born in Ireland.

At the other end of the EU there is Poland which has seen so many of its own people head west. But while Polish workers enjoy unlimited access to some EU labour markets, those getting off trains in Warsaw from further east do not experience the same conditions, says the report.

In a globalised age where people are increasingly free and willing to move, governments face a delicate political balancing act between a nation's economic needs and its population's fear of change.

Populations want reassurance that governments are only letting in the right sort of people. Indeed, some people born to immigrants themselves have joined a chorus of concern over whether current levels of migration are sustainable.

The Mipex report asks these populations to pause for a moment and consider what the migrants themselves think - and what kind of role they are being offered in the future of European societies.

A map showing a league table of migrants' rights across Europe



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