Page last updated at 13:39 GMT, Tuesday, 15 December 2009

European Muslims prefer mixed areas - survey

By Rob Broomby
BBC News

Muslims at prayer in Mulhouse, France - file pic
Most Muslims do not want segregation, the report finds

Most of Europe's Muslims want to live in mixed communities, not segregated neighbourhoods, a new report says.

The work by the Open Society Institute (OSI), an independent think-tank, looked at the social integration of Muslims in 11 West European cities.

It calls for improved efforts to tackle discrimination.

Europe's Muslim population is expected to double by 2025 and could reach 40 million. But data on them is very limited, OSI says.

The report says religious discrimination remains a critical barrier to their participation in European society, and the situation has worsened in recent years.

The OSI says its aim is to promote tolerance and fairness.

Identity issues

Nazia Hussein, who supervised the work, says many Muslims are still seen as outsiders.

"The majority of Muslims that we've spoken to across 11 cities feel very strongly attached to their neighbourhood and city, they feel quite strongly attached to their country," she told the BBC.

"But at the same time they don't believe that their fellow countrymen or the wider society sees them as either German or French or English."

The report offers a series of snapshots from: the Netherlands (Amsterdam and Rotterdam), Belgium (Antwerp), Germany (Berlin and Hamburg), Denmark (Copenhagen), the UK (Leicester and London), France (Marseille and Paris) and Sweden (Stockholm).

In the Kreuzberg neighbourhood of the German capital Berlin few Muslims identified themselves with their nation - not because they rejected German values but, it says, because society still sees them as "foreigners".

New laws forbidding the wearing of visibly religious symbols or clothing in schools have had a detrimental impact, it says.

In the Netherlands recent controversies like the assassination of the film-maker Theo van Gogh by a Muslim extremist have "convulsed public opinion". Muslims, it says, have "become scapegoats for public anxieties over security".

Segregation problem

City authorities were "fighting residential segregation", it acknowledged, but educational segregation remains a problem.

Meanwhile in Rotterdam's Feyenoord district, which has a high concentration of immigrants, attempts to create a more mixed society by allocating housing differently have been legally halted on discrimination grounds.

Muslims there say they feel that the bar for measuring how well Muslims integrate is "constantly raised" and anti-Muslim sentiment and even violence has increased across the country.

In Leicester - one of Britain's most ethnically diverse cities - the police were praised for their community understanding. And though ethnic minorities are well represented politically, "racial discrimination is still very much alive" in the city.

The authors conclude that social segregation does matter, but it is of most concern to Muslims themselves.

The findings and recommendations include the following:

  • Among Muslims surveyed, 61% have a strong sense of belonging to the country and 72% a strong sense of belonging to the city;
  • The majority of Muslims eligible to vote did vote in local and national elections;
  • Many Muslims who are not EU citizens remain disenfranchised, particularly in Germany and France;
  • Half of Muslim respondents reported experiencing religious discrimination over last 12 months;
  • Muslims are almost three times more likely to be unemployed than non-Muslims;
  • City officials must strive to maintain areas that are ethnically and religiously mixed, and ensure that discrimination is not a barrier for Muslims when choosing where to live;
  • Cities should foster an inclusive city identity - Amsterdam, Antwerp and Copenhagen have run such campaigns successfully;
  • The EU should collect accurate data on minorities and encourage equal treatment in education, housing and other services;
  • The EU should enable cities to exchange information and best practices about collecting educational data on minority students.

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