According to numbers issued by UNHCR, there are currently 82.4 million people in the world forced to leave their homes behind. Amongst those, many are women under the age of 18. One of the major disruptive events – the Second World War-caused the displacement of between 11 and 20 million people, to put matters into perspective. And the number of people fleeing their homes are growing each year. This is an issue that impacts several host countries, the Nordics being among the ones that have received many refugees in the last couple of years.
After the intense wave of refugees, when migration peaked in 2015, there was no doubt about the stringent need for common ground among all Nordic countries. Despite the crisis and being one of the most integrated regions globally, the Nordics have not developed a unified Nordic model of migration. This is how the Nordic co-operation on integration and inclusion came to fruition in 2016. Its aim was to share experiences, develop new knowledge, come up with and implement programmes that aid newcomers adapt quicker and better to their new country. Integration programmes have been designed and rolled out in all Nordic countries. Still, they differ from one another. The differences have been researched and compiled in a study published in 2020, called Nordic integration and settlement policies for refugees: A comparative analysis of labour market integration outcomes.
The Nordic co-operation on integration and inclusion works with thematic issues that are chosen and re-evaluated each year by the Nordic Council of Ministers, Nordic Welfare Centre and Nordregio, which provides research to the programme. Among these are honour-related violence, the integration of children and families, the labour market integration of refugees, and other important topics. In 2020, the theme of the organisation’s work did not need brainstorming. The impact of COVID19 and its effects on immigrant communities, especially the consequences it had on the labour market and on their chances of finding and keeping employment, was the clear topic. “We have high rates of unemployment in the Nordics after the COVID-19. In Sweden, for example, according to statistics released in January 2021, 4.6% of natives were unemployed compared to 20% of foreign-born, so inequality has increased during the pandemic. But even before it, the gap was large”, says Kristin Marklund, Project manager for the integration cooperation at The Nordic welfare centre. “The reasons for this trend are multiple and complex.” says Marklund, “Starting with lack of education, failure to integrate properly in the new country, the labour market opportunities that the adoptive country offers, a person’s gender, and the list goes on.” For example, among the Nordic countries, Sweden is where employment necessitates higher education and usually puts newcomers in a worse position, as their options are limited. Furthermore, the pandemic had a ripple effect on most aspects of life and business, with certain industries hit harder than others. These industries, such as hospitality services or public transport services, are the ones that usually employ lower-skilled workers.
The situation seems to be even direr for women as the ones coming to new countries have a harder time integrating into the labour market. The reasons behind this trend are again numerous and varied. The lack of education in their home countries, no prior professional experience, being the main caretakers of children, the differences between social systems in the country of origins and the adoptive country or the lack of language skills are some of the main causes. Still, the truth remains that women need more support to enter and stay in the labour market. According to Kristin Marklund, the approach targeted at women implies that people working with integration programmes must seek immigrant women in their homes and inform them about their new country’s opportunities: “We have searched for different kinds of support for women, and sometimes you have to seek them out at home because sometimes they stay at home for years, and they don’t learn the language.”
In another Nordic country – Norway, the situation is not much different regarding gender differences for immigrants in the labour market. The Norwegian Integration Authority (IMDI) analysed the path of asylum seekers that participated in integration programmes rolled out in 2018 and discovered that after two years, approximately 73% of the men had gained some sort of education, while for women, that percentage was significantly lower, of only 8%.
This speaks volumes of the need for women to receive more support in situations such as these. “In Denmark, they implemented a programme called Bydelsmødrene that educates women with an immigrant background. They can go home to these women, speak their language and try to invite them to different kinds of group activities where they can learn Danish, how this new society works and continue their integration in the country”, says Kristin Marklund.
The issue of migration, integration and inclusion has so many facets that describing it as complex would not do it justice. “We have worked with segregation and how to combat segregation as a theme. We worked with other themes: negative social control, honour-related violence, and early interventions for children and families. And we also looked at how immigration can contribute to a positive development of the Nordic countries, as we have an elderly population and we are dependent on people coming here from other countries to work”, says Marklund as she explains the range of themes the Nordic co-operation on integration and inclusion works with.
The Nordic co-operation programme has also highlighted initiatives on early intervention and measures encouraging girls to pursue further education. Research has shown that when comparing girls and boys who choose to go to University, girls express more desire and ambition. “They said that the only way they can get a good job is to have an education”, says Kristin Marklund. But this also speaks of the situation boys and men have to deal with. The mental health of immigrants, both boys and girls, is another central theme the cooperation works with. “Boys and men might need more communication about the issue of prioritizing studies and education because they tend not to do that”, believes Kristin Marklund. The list of good practice examples compiled by the Nordic co-operation on integration and inclusion features many programmes that target men and their integration in the adoptive country, such as Baba – fordi far er vigtig!. This Danish initiative encourages men with an immigrant background to be more involved in the caretaking of their children.
All of these initiatives imply dismantling certain worldviews or perhaps skewing them to adjust to a new reality and a different society; therefore, the work that needs to be done needs to be continuous and on many fronts. When asked what is required to solve the integration issues and create smoother pathways for immigrants to become self-sufficient in new countries, Kristin Marklund says that civil society plays an important role because it can support families with language training and networks. But more importantly, is for all of us to understand that people who come here want to work and live independently, so we need to apply evidence-based interventions that enable newcomers to find employment. “If only a small share enters the labour market, it’s a higher cost for the Nordic countries and the Nordic welfare system. Luckily, there is a lot of research available, but it could take many years to implement new models because officials can be stuck in certain ways of doing things. So, it is about changing people’s minds a bit”, concludes Marklund.