State action helps integration

Rossalina Latcheva, of the Fundamental Rights Agency
​Rossalina Latcheva, of the Fundamental Rights Agency
Ethnic minorities and immigrants in Europe retain higher levels of trust in institutions – particularly local government, the police and the legal system – than the general public despite one in four declaring that they had experienced discrimination in the past 12 months and despite two in five believing that they were last stopped by the police because of their background, the European Union's Fundamental Rights Agency said at its annual meeting with the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) on 11 April.

Another key conclusion from the meeting, highlighted by a think-tanker and practitioner, was that national policies on integration, discrimination, and equality contribute significantly to integration in local communities, schools and job markets.

Speaking at a meeting of the CoR's Commission for Citizenship, Governance, Institutional and External Affairs (CIVEX), Rossalina Latcheva, a senior programme manager for statistics and surveys at the Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA), said that the FRA's second Minorities and Discrimination Survey, published in December 2017, found that perceived discrimination is highest among north Africans (31%), Roma (26%) and sub-Saharan Africans. Three percent said they had been physically attacked in the past 12 months, with Roma and sub-Saharan Africans being particular targets; while Roma (16%) and north Africans (15%) felt particularly discriminated against in job search and also in search for housing (12% for Roma, 9% for north Africans). She noted, however, that results vary widely by country and group, with 50% of sub-Saharan Africans in Luxembourg encountering discrimination compared with 6% of Russians in Lithuania.

Overall, she said, levels of trust in Europe's institutions are higher among these groups than among the population as a whole, but rates depend on the experience of discrimination, particularly among sub-Saharan Africans.

Thomas Huddleston of the Migration Policy Group urged policy-makers to make greater use of the FRA's work, describing it as the best source of information in Europe on discrimination and equality. His organisation's Migrant Integration Policy Index (MIPEX), partly drawing on data from the FRA, has found a strong link between strong national rules on discrimination and equality on the experience, attitudes, and behaviour of ethnic minorities and new arrivals in Europe.

Strong laws spread ideas of fairness and equality among the population and immigrants, he said, and those countries with the strongest anti-discrimination laws are those where victims are more likely to know their rights and of body that protects those rights. "When you talk about trust and social cohesion, these can seem abstract, but increasingly research shows that this has an impact on social integration, and also on their health. Countries with stronger laws are where immigrant kids are more likely to stay at school, where they are less to be depressed and to suffer from other health problems."

The impact of integration policies – and their absence – was emphasised by Marta Siciarek of the Gdańsk Immigrant Support Centre.

"When there is no integration policy, discriminatory practices flourish," she said, arguing that the lack of a national-level policy on integration in Poland also meant that cities lacked tools, resources and capacity to cope with the challenges posed by Poland's transformation into a country of immigration in the past three years. Gdańsk has seen the percentage of immigrants rise from 1% to 10% in the space of three years, she said, with most new arrivals coming from Ukraine, and has formed a working group on integration with the ten other biggest cities in Poland.

What Polish organisations like hers are doing is "not big physics", she said, and will not be "competitive or innovative" in applications for European money "because we are working on basic standards". But "we need to put money into cities to do the job we need to do", which is "very practical and simple, but still needs a lot of coordination, work and effort".