There was a marked increase in the numbers of immigrants taking part in last month’s 17th of May celebrations in Oslo, and a new survey helps explain why. Many are feeling more accepted and included, especially since the terrorist attacks of July 22, while the survey shows that more Norwegians are now less critical to immigration and even embrace it.
The survey, detailed in newspaper Aftenposten on Thursday, shows that fewer Norwegians criticize increased immigration, fewer believe that immigrants pose a threat to Norwegian values, and more Norwegians now have regular contact with immigrants.
“Integration is a process that is most critical in its early years,” Linda Alzaghari of local think tank Minotenk, which specializes in minority politics, told Aftenposten. “Historically, integration is a new phenomenon in Norway and we didn’t have a lot of experience with it. But now I think we’re gaining control over its challenges.”
The survey was conducted by the state directorate in charge of integration and diversity, IMDi, and it measured Norwegian attitudes towards immigrants and immigration for the sixth year in a row. The results were being published in a so-called “Integration Barometer 2012” on Thursday.
Even though many Norwegians remain skeptical towards immigration, this year’s survey shows a clear change in local attitudes. More than half of those questioned were positive towards increased immigration, and 51 percent responded that they think integration is functioning well.
Fully 42 percent of those responding now say they have frequent contact with immigrants, compared to 28 percent in 2005. “If even more Norwegians had more contact, I think even more prejudices would disappear,” Nilam Raheem Khan, a 19-year-old Oslo resident with roots in Pakistan, told Aftenposten. “It’s just to try!”
After-effects of home-grown terror
Several Norwegian residents with roots in other countries claim they’ve felt an attitude change among Norwegians after the terrorist attacks of July 22, which were carried out by a white ethnic Norwegian who says he was attacking those who have allowed immigration.
“The 22nd of July changed a lot,” Thuli Babajide, a 48-year-old woman who lives in Holmlia after immigrating from Nigeria, told Aftenposten. “After that, folks realized we’re not here to destroy anything. It’s been the biggest change I’ve felt in the 28 years I’ve been here.”
Haakon Gonzalez, a 20-year-old with roots in Mexico, agreed. “I think the 22nd of July changed Norwegians’ attitudes for the better,” Gonzalez told Aftenposten. “The terror has made folks understand that it’s not us immigrants who are behind everything that goes wrong.” He still thinks Norwegian attitudes towards immigration are mixed, though, and thinks his Norwegian name has helped him avoid discrimination. His immigrant parents named him “Haakon” after his father experienced discrimination in the 1960s.
Grace Emiley Ayensu, who lives in Oppegård after immigrating from Ghana, told Aftenposten that she feels more accepted and included now than when she first arrived in Norway. “I came to Oslo in 1995, and in the first few years, I experienced that folks were reserved and skeptical about getting acquainted with me,” Ayensu said. “I think that’s common for immigrants, but since then it’s gone in a positive direction.”
Inga Marte Thorkildsen, the government minister in charge of immigration and integration issues, said she was glad to hear that fewer Norwegians think immigrants pose a threat to Norwegian values such as equality, democracy and freedom of expression.
“I’m extra relieved over (the survey results) because we have seen that others share the political attitudes held by (terrorist) Anders Behring Brevik,” said Thorkildsen, referring to some of those who testified for the defense this week at his ongoing terror trial in Oslo. “The debate after July 22 has become more political, but in a more constructive way.”
Thorkildsen has also been worried by surveys revealing anti-Semitism in Norway, although such attitudes are held by a minority. She called the new survey “uplifting” and was especially encouraged by the growth in personal contact between Norwegians and immigrants.
“Norway is a multi-cultural country now, and that will continue,” Thorkildsen told Aftenposten. “Increased contact can contribute towards breaking down stereotypes and prejudice.”
Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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