Immigration hit by ‘negative focus’

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An ongoing debate in Norway over immigration and the progress of integration has been soured, claim some politicians, by an “increasing negative focus” on certain groups of immigrants. All newcomers thus stand to be stigmatized, no matter how well they’ve done in Norway or how integrated they are.

The debate picked up last week when newspaper Aftenposten reported on a new “Integration Barometer,” a study conducted for the state that showed rising skepticism towards immigration because of a feeling that integration of immigrants is not succeeding. More than half of those questioned wanted to virtually close Norway’s borders to new immigrants, while 80 percent believed residence in Norway should only be granted if immigrants can pass a language test.

No distinctions
“This study, though, doesn’t make any distinctions among the various groups of immigrants, those who come as asylum seekers or as people looking for work,” Lise Christoffersen, a Member of Parliament for the Labour Party and its spokesperson on immigration issues, told Aftenposten this week. “We see that public discussion of some groups, for example international criminals who neither are in need of asylum or work, can influence people’s attitudes.”

Christoffersen said she thinks more Norwegians would support immigration for those truly in need. Ola Elvestuen of the Liberal Party also called for a more thoughtful debate on immigration.

“It’s a fact that Norway needs workers from abroad, and those who need protection should get it,” Elvestuen told Aftenposten. “We must be clear that ‘immigrants’ make up a hugely diverse group.”

Integration better than its reputation
Other state officials claimed that integration is faring far better than the study suggested. “It’s important to take the public’s feelings seriously, but it’s also important to stress that all documentation, research and statistics show that integration is making progress,” Line Gaare Paulsen of the state ministry in charge of children, equality and inclusion told Aftenposten. “A lot of people have a more negative view of how integration is proceeding than how it really is.”

Norway, for example, has the highest employment rate among immigrants than any other country in the OECD, while the portion of those employed rose from 57 percent to 64 percent between 2005 and 2008. The vast majority of immigrants in Norway are from other European countries.

Grete Brochmann, who recently led a commission charged with evaluating Norwegian immigration and integration policies, stressed that the Integration Barometer measured people’s attitudes, not facts. “And that’s not very helpful as a tool for changing policies,” she said.

Immigrants speak up
Meanwhile, several immigrants have spoken up since the Aftenposten article ran, such as Akhenaton De Leon of an anti-discrimination group, who said he believes Norway is a “tolerant society” but that it’s undergone major change in recent years.

Folad Ibrahim and his family from Afghanistan agree that the key is learning Norwegian and getting children into day care with other Norwegian children. He and his wife have studied Norwegian hard and he, after just five years in Norway, is now working as an interpreteter.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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