A largely hidden aspect of the migrant crisis: what is behind the integration of Muslims in Europe?

Everyday life for migrants at Rūdninkai training ground. Julius Kalinskas photo. 15min.lt

With scores of illegal migrants from Asian countries massing at the borders of Poland, Lithuania and Latvia, European leaders and the media have once again raised the issues of foreign policy and human rights. Still, the third aspect of the migrant crisis – the clash of religions and civilisations – has been almost silent, Indrė Naureckaitė writes in lrytas.lt.

Political experts assess how well the newcomers from Islamic countries of the last decade and today are actually integrating into Europe and embracing the values and norms of behaviour it proclaims.

Changing rhetoric

Germany’s “open door” policy towards migrants, which was declared back in 2015, does not show the same enthusiasm in the current migrant crisis. Moreover, EU Member States are considering financing a physical border with Belarus.

Linas Kojala, political analyst and Director of the Eastern Europe Studies Centre (EESC), argued that the change in rhetoric is not only related to the fact that the current migrant crisis is an attack on the Minsk regime but also to the internal political developments in various European countries.

“We can see that immigration is one of the most pressing issues in the French presidential election campaign as well, with most of the leading candidates being quite strict on restrictions. They are also more stringent on the integration of people who have already arrived.

In Germany, although the Social Democratic Party won most of the votes, there is also a balance between a looser application of the principle of family reunification. Still, more restrictions on those who enter Europe illegally,” Kojala told lrytas.lt.

The political analyst notes that their different experiences condition the different political development towards migrants in different European countries. Still, the overall context is much more critical than it used to be.

“I think this is primarily due to the electorate’s desire to see political leaders who talk more about limiting migration than about opening up to Europe and solving their economic problems by allowing more people to come,” the political scientist assessed.

Kojala would not name a single European country that has been unequivocally successful in integration. France, for example, has its success stories. Still, there is also another part of the struggle that current President Macron is facing – that in some regions and communities, there are radical immigrant groups that can become a problem for the country.

“One of the objectives that Mr Macron and his government set themselves was precisely to tackle these hotbeds of radicalisation.

In Germany, I think integration has certainly been successful in principle. In many cases, it has been stated that even those people who arrived during the migration crisis in 2015-2016 have integrated successfully, have contributed to stable growth in the German economy, and in the long term, a large part of these immigrants will help to counterbalance the problem of an ageing population,” said Mr Kojala.

In Sweden, he said, there are also many success stories, but there is also a widely discussed concern about crime in individual regions and parts of cities.

“Almost all European countries have political parties that are strongly sceptical about migration. This shows that the public cares about this issue, that it is important and that it encourages political leaders to adapt”, the political scientist concluded.

Three key factors

Šarūnas Liekis, historian and professor at Vytautas Magnus University, discussed during the Žinių Radio programme that the most common way of assessing the migrant crisis is to shift the responsibility onto the people themselves.

“Regime change has been very popular with us, even though everybody is burnt from it and understands that Iraq, Syria and Libya are the results of regime change, and refugees from those countries are the result of those policies,” the professor stressed.

The negative influence of European civilisation in these countries is being forgotten, he said.

“Look at what we have in Afghanistan, Pakistan – half the population is illiterate, there is no health care system, no social welfare. So, on the one hand, we have a different colonial heritage; on the other hand, we have the state they are in now and what they have been turned into as a result of foreign interference of one kind or another,” Liekis assessed.

When assessing the integration of migrants from Asian countries in Europe, Liekis said that it varies greatly depending on the individual migrant nations, the number of migrants and the policies of the state.

For example, he said, integration problems in France were not so much due to different cultures, but to socialisation problems – how the state itself views migrants and what measures it takes to assimilate and integrate them.

Liekis notes that, for example, the integration of a small group of 20,000-30,000 Somalis in Norway in the 1960s was a great success. This, he says, was due to a planned state policy and a relatively limited number of migrants.

“The Scandinavian countries, despite all the problems, have managed these numbers quite well. The problems are in Germany,” Liekis noted.

However, Liekis said that it is difficult to make a general assessment of the success of the integration of Islamic migrants in Europe.

“For example, the Lebanese Maronites are one story, the Druses are a completely different story, a different heritage and their ability to act and do something. Most Iranians integrate well. The problems are mainly with people coming from Iraq. But Iranians integrate well in any country – the education system does a lot for them, long-standing habits,” Liekis said.

Is Europe digging itself a hole?

For his part, Vytautas Sinica, a politician and political analyst, argued during the show that the problem of migrants not integrating into Europe is mutual.

“Europe itself is not very willing to integrate anyone. However, the policy of multiculturalism adopted in recent decades means that large communities of people from other cultures can live according to their own cultural norms”, Sinica said.

In 2010, the leaders of Europe’s most significant countries said that this policy had failed and should be abandoned, but it is still being lived by de facto.

“In France, for example, there is a post-colonial guilt factor. Not the whole of society, of course, but the political, academic elite lives with the idea that we are guilty and that we now owe a lot to those people, primarily in terms of social welfare. That we will act like imperialists again if we force them to take over our culture as well”, he said.

According to Sinica, with the first wave, people who came from Islamic countries in the post-war period integrated well – they were hard-working and did not sit on welfare. But their children and grandchildren, the political scientist said, are now much more radical and much harder to integrate.

“When there were terror attacks in France in the last decade, some of it was a wave of migrants, but some of it was people who were brought up in the country. Then some of the French political analysts themselves commented that their own education system was breeding hostility towards their country.

A person, say, a Muslim, born in France, feels that he is living in an environment that is hostile to him, in a country where, even at school, he receives confirmation that it has done him and his people a great deal of harm. Europe is digging a hole for itself with this attitude of guilt,” said the political scientist.

“Quantity is everything. Few people from foreign cultures integrate, many do not integrate, and if very many do, they even start to change the norms here,” Sinica believes.

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