Integrating Migrants and Refugees, a Two-Way Road That Benefits Everyone

Integrating Migrants and Refugees, a Two-Way Road That Benefits Everyone
“Migrants, asylum-seekers and refugees should not be regarded as passive suppliants begging for favors,” Cardinal Marx said, but rather as “persons who dare a new beginning, who are eager to advance the well-being of themselves, of their families and of the communities in which they live.” Photo: ICMC

Integrating migrants and refugees into host societies should be a two-way road that benefits — and requires efforts from — all involved parties. For this to happen, a change of perception is needed.

This was the main message from participants at a high-level panel held on the sidelines of the 108th Council of the UN Agency for Migration (IOM), which met in Geneva on 30 November and 1 December 2017.

Integration policies “should be guided by a clear idea of participation and inclusion,” said Cardinal Reinhard Marx, the event’s keynote speaker. More than “just paying lip-service to uncontroversial general claims,” this approach requires “tangible steps” regarding access to language courses, higher education, training programs and a fair chance in the labor market, among other conditions.

“What matters is that every person is given a real opportunity to advance and use their skills and competencies, whether they live in a society temporarily or permanently,” stated Cardinal Marx, who is Archbishop of Munich and Chair of the German Bishops’ Conference.

For this to happen, “a far-reaching change of perception” is needed. “Migrants, asylum-seekers and refugees should not be regarded as passive suppliants begging for favors,” but rather as “persons who dare a new beginning, who are eager to advance the well-being of themselves, of their families and of the communities in which they live.”

As decisive as a “genuine empowerment of migrants” may be, it also essential to develop a “sense of belonging, a consciousness of being part of a community,” Cardinal Marx said. “Both among the local population and among migrants, a shared responsibility for the common good needs to evolve.” Going beyond the basic requirement of law-abidance, it has to be “driven by mutual recognition and mutual esteem.”

If migrants are expected to “respect [the host society’s] values and to appreciate its heritage,” members of the host society on their part “ought to receive migrants with sincere appreciation.” Cardinal Marx challenged the latter to ask themselves whether they are “making sufficient efforts to value foreigners.” He also warned against the danger of turning “positive identities into negative” ones and of using “human rights or Christianity […] as an instrument of exclusion.”

Cardinal Marx acknowledged that participation and inclusion are also of concern for citizens and long-time residents who “do not experience themselves as valued members of a community and do not feel empowered to contribute to the common good.” Any comprehensive commitment to the well-being of society needs to “oppose any tendencies of playing off one marginalized group against another,” he said.

Ambassador Lacy Swing at IOM Council

The IOM Director-General, Ambassador William Lacy Swing, highlighted the efforts required to integrate migrants and refugees successfully into host societies.

“Integration is the most critical element for successful immigration and yet the most neglected one,” Ambassador Swing said and stressed: “Lots of hard work is needed to put integration back into the right place; it is not automatic, is not a given.”

When it comes to migration, “we need to deal with the fear of the other, which not only puts people at risk but also denies host societies the possibility of benefiting from the important contributions migrants can make to them.” For Ambassador Swing, it is necessary not just “to support migration, but to embrace it.”

“This is not an easy task,” agreed Archbishop Ivan Jurkovič, “as we know from historical experience that it usually takes more than a generation for a successful immigration process to take place.” Archbishop Ivan Jurkovič, who moderated the panel and is the Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the UN and international organizations in Geneva, stressed the importance of “a positive and open-minded as well as realistic approach to an issue that will be with us for many years to come.”

As a long-term effort, “integration requires the involvement of many actors,” including national and local governments as well as civil society, said Ms. Carol Batchelor, Director of the Internal Protection Department at the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). While local administrations need to be at the center of coordination and action, partnerships and collaboration should involve the private sector and civil society organizations.

This broadly encompassing approach is part of the Canadian model of “managed immigration,” explained Ambassador Stephen de Boer, Permanent Representative of Canada to the World Trade Organization. “Nearly one-third of our population has been born outside the country, including my parents,” he said. Today, through resettlement and other admission channels including humanitarian programs, Canada continues to have a steady immigration flow. “We know migrants are a source of strength and a competitive advantage,” he added.

“Migration is beneficial for everybody: countries of origin and destination as well as migrants themselves,” stated Mr. El Habib Nadir, Secretary-General of the Ministry Delegate to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation in charge of Moroccans Living Abroad and Migration Affairs. Integration involves the whole of the society, including the media and religious authorities, Mr. Nadir said. The former should avoid stigmatizing narratives, while the latter should promote interreligious dialogue and “words of wisdom.”

Speaking from the floor, Ms. Mantalin Kyrou, Policy Officer at the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC), offered an example of how the two-way road works in practice. Speaking out of her personal experience working with migrants in Germany, she told the story of a foreign worker and an immigration official who, after a first seemingly disastrous encounter in which mutual expectations did not match, managed to start afresh with some efforts on both sides. “Sometimes the best solutions are the most humane ones,” Ms. Kyrou concluded.

Entitled “Mutual Contributions and Benefits: Integrating Migrants in Host Societies,” the high-level panel was co-organized by the Permanent Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations in Geneva, the Permanent Mission of the Order of Malta, the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC), Caritas Internationalis and the Caritas in Veritate Foundation.

The event was co-sponsored by the permanent missions of Argentina, Brazil, Canada, the European Union, the Federal Republic of Germany, Italy, the Kingdom of Morocco, the Philippines and Uganda.

• Read Cardinal Marx keynote speech.


ICMC provides assistance and protection to vulnerable people on the move and advocates for sustainable solutions for refugees and migrants.