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Helping new arrivals realise their dreams

Helping new arrivals realise their dreams

| Text: Berit Kvam Photo: Drago Prvulovic, Scanpix

"I have been thinking lately that I have experience many others lack, which allows me some degree of authority to speak on what works and what doesn't when it comes to integration policy," says Nyamko Sabuni, Sweden's Minister for Integration and Gender Equality.

We catch up with her soon after she has opened one of the last meetings held during the Swedish EU presidency; the expert meeting on integration of new arrivals. At home she has just presented a bill called "Newly arrived immigrants' integration into the labour market - a personal responsibility with professional help".

A Swedish reform due to begin in December 2010 will see the state take responsibility for integration policy with the Swedish Public Employment Service as the central operator. The new system will place more responsibility on individuals while also giving them more possibilities.

The EU conference looked at just what incentives and measures are needed to increase employment among immigrants. Sabuni pointed out the importance of pursuing this issue.

Fighting for the forgotten

"I don't have the figures for other member states, but in Sweden we know that less than 30 per cent [of immigrants] have found work after three years. 50 per cent find work after seven years. The remaining half spend even longer. This is a trend we have to stop," Sabuni told the conference.

She sees a clear link between immigrants not finding work and confrontations between youth and police in Paris in 2005, when more than 10,000 cars and 300 houses were torched over three weeks. She says Sweden have seen similar tendencies.

"Our politics must focus on the fight for the forgotten, the most exposed," she said.

The million dollar question at the conference was how to break the cycle of immigrant unemployment. The Stockholm Programme paves the way for a joint EU asylum and migration policy, while integration policy remains a national responsibility. The aim is to identify common principles for integration, and to share experiences and preserve competence while working out which policies work best.

"But in an economic downturn and with high unemployment, is this the time to launch incentives to get immigrants working?

"Yes, that's exactly when we need to do it," said Sabuni, because the economic crisis is too often used as an excuse to not employ immigrants. The Swedish reform aims to offer economic incentives both to new arrivals and to employers.

The demographic challenge

The EU's demographic development was one of the reasons this conference was called. UN population statistics show 100 Europeans between the ages of 15 and 64 now have responsibility as providers for 46 people, while that number will rise to 73 by 2050. The Minister for Integration and Gender Equality sees two ways of tackling this demographic challenge; one is to get more women in employment. Only 60 per cent of women in Europe are currently working.

"The other solution is immigration," she says, but we must develop a system of work place integration which works better than today. The voluntary sector and society as a whole need to step up their efforts, but there is also a need to change attitudes among those who arrive here, she said.

"People who have left their old lives and countries to seek a better future in a new country have already demonstrated an enormous will and drive. All they want to do is work and contribute."

Deeply worried

"I am deeply worried about the difference between those being tired after a long day's work and those who are tired of never finding a job to go to."

Sabuni is black and born in Burundi. She told Nordic Labour Journal her job sometimes reminds her of her different background. So in what way does she notice?

"In the way people communicate. You will have heard the Spanish state secretary focus on illegal immigration. With my background as a refugee I can understand why people seek a better future for themselves in a different country. For me it is more important to focus on those who have the right to be here, and on their opportunities to establish themselves in our society."

Sweden's Minister for Integration

Nyamko Sabuni and Maria Consuelo Rumi Ibanez, Spain's secretary of state responsible for immigration and emigration. 


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