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Making integration work

Various localities have experienced a significant social change in the last decade as a result of the influx of immigrants and refugees. What were once homogeneous communities have now become multicultural ones where the milieu of different cultures has not always blended harmoniously. Failed integration efforts have an adverse knock-on effect on Maltese society that needs to be managed sensitively.

The local councils of Marsa and Ħamrun have taken steps within their authority to mitigate the cases of lawlessness that seem to be becoming more common in areas where the presence of migrants is more conspicuous. The mayor of Ħamrun, Christian Sammut, commented that the influx of foreigners to the locality was of “huge concern” as incidents of abuse and street fights have become a daily occurrence.

No wonder that residents are fed up, especially as the lack of enforcement is frustrating many law-abiding citizens. The Prime Minister asked the Home Affairs Minister and the Police Commissioner to take action by stepping up patrols in areas where disturbances are more likely to erupt. He also insisted that those breaking the law, irrespective of their nationality, should be arraigned.

Policymakers need to acknowledge that not everybody experiences migration in the same way. Our television screens are continually showing incidents caused by failed integration policies in Europe and also here. This fuels fears, shifts the migration debate. It undermines the balanced discussion of the relevant issues.

We should not have any ghettos in Malta because the regulations on law and order are not enforced and lawbreakers of whatever nationality are allowed to get away with serious breaches of civil behaviour.

Lack of integration policies can easily lead to economic costs, political costs, instability and the erosion of social cohesion. It can also lead to rising social and political fragmentation as well as give rise to populism that is raising its head in all EU countries.

While the enforcement of law and order is undoubtedly the most urgent priority, the government needs to work on a pragmatic integration policy that will see the thousands of migrants in our country becoming an integral part of society. That is a reality that cannot be denied. The EU leaves the issue of integration of migrants to the individual member states, though there seems to be little appetite for collective funding of integration programmes.

For integration to work, the government needs to work with other stakeholders to ensure that migrants can enter the official labour market more easily and start paying taxes as everyone else. Intensive efforts are also needed to improve literacy and language proficiency and provide adult education and vocational training. Migrants must learn to respect the culture and laws of the country that hosts them and not isolate themselves in ghettos where they wrongly expect to be free to behave in whatever way they like.

A good national integration policy will also provide for fair access to social support services and collaboration with civil society to build ties between migrants and local communities. Many refugees, especially children, will require mental health support to overcome the traumas they would have experienced in their search for safety.

Policymakers should listen to people’s concerns and have a frank, respectful debate about how to design, develop and deliver better integration policies to make everyone’s life better.

This is a Times of Malta print editorial

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