Human Rights-Based Integration Policy and the New “Migrant Integration Strategy”

We are delighted to welcome this guest post from Leanne Caulfield, research assistant at Maynooth University on the IHREC-funded project “Integration Policy in Ireland Through the Lens of Human Rights and Equality”.

In January, Professor Mary Gilmartin and Dr. Clíodhna Murphy (Maynooth University) commenced work on an Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission funded research project which focuses on the development of a human rights-based integration policy framework for public bodies. One aspect of the research involves the collation and analysis of public bodies’ existing policies relating to migrant integration, diversity or interculturalism. In evaluating public bodies’ integration policies, it seems fitting to turn firstly to the Migrant Integration Strategy published by the Office for the Promotion of Migrant Integration in February of this year.

Underpinning Features of the New Migrant Integration Strategy

The first formal strategy for integration was produced in 2008 by the Office of the Minister for Integration. This document, called “Migration Nation”, outlined the principles intended to underpin Irish integration policy. The need for a renewed focus on integration and a more developed and long-term approach was recognised by the Government and resulted in the publishing of the new strategy this year.

The central features underpinning the new strategy are its definition of integration as a broad-based, two-way conception; its focus on a mainstreaming, intercultural approach to policy enforcement; and its foundation on the EU Common Basic Principles for Integration. The strategy also centres on the idea that it is addressing a new phase in Ireland’s integration policy – moving beyond the initial phase of focussing on the needs of those newly arrived in Ireland, to that where many migrants have lived in Ireland for some time but may continue to have needs particular to their migrant status.

The strategy is much more focused on identifying actions rather than setting out guiding principles. The strategy identifies two types of actions. The first type of actions are those applicable to all Government departments which include making information available through signs and translated material, training on intercultural awareness and providing information on how to make a complaint about racist behaviour.

The second type of actions is those which are intended to address particular issues. Some of these are interesting and quite specific – such as the inclusion of a target of 1% for the employment of EEA migrants and people from minority ethnic communities in the civil service (in most cases civil service employment is not open to non-EEA nationals) and the monitoring of current school enrolment policies over time to assess their impact on the enrolment of migrant students. Other actions are broad and nebulous (for example, “encourage businesses to focus on integration”; and “migrants will be encouraged to participate in local and national politics to the extent that these areas are legally open to them”.)

A Human Rights and Equality Focus?

As the research project is focused on developing a human rights and equality-based migrant integration policy framework for public bodies, we were keen to establish the extent to which the Migrant Integration Strategy is either explicitly or implicitly human rights-based.

Express references

“Human rights” are not expressly mentioned in the Migrant Integration Strategy apart from a handful of references which are made only for the purpose of outlining the duty on the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission. There are no references to upholding human rights standards or ensuring that human rights are enjoyed by all, and human rights principles are not expressly given as a rationale for any of the measures outlined in the strategy. However, there are a small number of express references to “equality” and equality principles. It is stated that the vision of the strategy is to enable migrants or persons of migrant origin to participate “on an equal basis” with those of Irish heritage. The strategy also expresses a commitment to ensuring “equality of opportunity” for second generation migrants although it does not proceed to explain how this will be achieved.

Implicit references

The strategy does contain some implicit references to human rights and equality principles and human rights issues. Commitments are made with regard to the right of participation, as the strategy outlines its vision of enabling migrants or persons of migrant origin to participate on an equal basis with those of Irish heritage. The principle of non-discrimination is also referred to implicitly in the outline of measures aimed at combating racism and xenophobia including intercultural training, ensuring representation of migrants on joint-policing committees, and other measures. However, the strategy also states that provision of generic training across the public service via the shared learning and development curriculum will address specific provision of antiracism and cultural awareness training only “where a need is identified”.

One of the core elements of the strategy’s vision is that “the basic values of Irish society are respected by all”. The strategy also states that integration recognises the right of migrants to give expression to their own culture in a manner that does not conflict with the “basic values of Irish society” placing an emphasis on the need for migrants to conform to Irish values without elaborating on what these values are. As Xanthaki argues, portraying values as simply “Irish” or “European”, as though Irish and European societies are beacons of democracy and fairness, and then expecting migrants to conform to these values, can serve to create a conditional one-way process of integration and to impose an artificial gap between the “host community” and migrant communities.

Positive Aspects of the Strategy

The Migrant Integration Strategy contains several positive features in its vision to achieve integration. The first of these positive points is that aside from some limited and under-explored references to “values”, the strategy does not appear to focus on “cultural integration”. It states that migrants should be enabled to celebrate their national, ethnic, cultural and religious identities (subject to the law). A second aspect is its participatory conception of integration: its vision is that migrants are facilitated to play a full role in Irish society. A third positive point is that the strategy recognises the need for better data on issues facing migrants (action 8).

A further positive feature is that some of the actions deal with long-standing issues of immigration law. Here, the strategy states that a statutory scheme for long term residency will be introduced (action 11). In addition, measures will be introduced to enable registration of non-EEA migrants aged under 16 years (action 14). These measures are to be welcomed. Related to this point is another positive in that the Department of Social Protection is to continue to take measures to ensure that the Habitual Residence Condition for welfare payments is applied correctly and consistently (action 21).

Points of Concern

While the Migrant Integration Strategy has strengths, there are also some points which cause concern. An initial point of concern is that the vision of the strategy includes, as its first priority, that “The basic values of Irish society are respected by all” and that it does not identify what these values are or might include.  A second point of concern is that, as outlined above, there are no express references to human rights principles as such, although some reference to “equality of opportunity”. The limited nature of references to immigration law is a further point of concern. Access to family reunification and the regularisation of undocumented people are some important long-standing issues which are not dealt with in the strategy. The strategy’s commitment to examine the imposition of a citizenship and/or language tests (action 12) is a further point of concern, as such tests act as barriers to integration.

The fact that the strategy does not apply to asylum seekers or undocumented migrants, as it only applies to “EEA and non-EEA nationals, including economic migrants, refugees and those with legal status to remain in Ireland” is unsurprising but nonetheless disappointing. This means that direct provision falls outside law and policy once again.

A final potential point of concern is the lack of any reference to relevant research reports, the ESRI’s Annual Monitoring Report on Integration, academic studies of integration and so on. Perhaps this is to be welcomed as it means that the strategy favours a pragmatic approach. However, this could also result in a lack of coherency and the lack of a developed vision of integration and its implications.

Human Rights-Based Integration Policy and the New “Migrant Integration Strategy”

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