Integration is an internal border

The words ‘integration’ and ‘cohesion’ are often used in pro-migration arguments. They are long-standing buzzwords that place the onus of being accepted into the community on migrants, including refugees. However, the positives of these ideas have been questioned by racial justice campaigners for decades and, at MRN, we have been raising awareness of how they reinforce conditions for belonging for migrants. 

These terms are ones we get the most pushback on in our workshops and conversations with politicians and those within the sector. Many of them argue that they have been appropriated by anti-migrant movements, but at their heart, the terms are ultimately positive. We disagree. In fact, we believe that ‘integration’ is simply an internal border within states to reinforce second-class status, forcing people to abandon their cultures and identities to navigate into systems of oppression.

You don’t have to look far to see how ‘integration’ rears its head across Fortress Europe. It is used as a mechanism to problematise and exclude certain migrant and racialised groups. It appears time and time again in media coverage accusing communities of ‘failing to integrate’ while States enforce arbitrary ‘integration’ tests, which are so impossible (and on narrow views of what country-specific culture is) that they are arguably designed to catch all racialised communities out. 

I thought integration and cohesion are good things? We want people to be included in our society

We understand that many people think ‘integration’ has come to mean something different from its original usage in the 1960s-80s; it has historically been an anti-migrant term tied to restrictive immigration laws amidst an environment of regular hate crimes against migrant and migratised communities. The burden has then been on migrants to participate in a society that is hostile towards them, rather than changing our society to be more welcoming and safe for migrants and racialised communities. In this way, the language of integration and related terms like ‘assimilation’ and ‘cohesion’ has provided a barrier to unity.

An example of this is the Life in the UK test. Most people raised in this country would struggle to pass it, demonstrating the higher standards placed on migrants versus citizens to ‘prove’ that they ‘deserve’ to be in this country. The test contains arbitrary questions like “Who directed the movie ‘Chariots of Fire’ in 1981?” and the name of an annual golf competition. This is reminiscent of Norman Tebbit MP’s remarks in 1990 on the signifier of assimilation into Britishness being whether a Person of Colour (regardless of immigration status) supported Britain or a South Asian or Caribbean national team in cricket. 

By creating an additional barrier that migrants and migratised people in Britain have to surpass for the bare minimum inclusion, the language of integration and its policies effectively construct an internal border. This continues to be backed up by ‘British Values’ – an arbitrary set of values that migrants and People of Colour have to embrace, whereas it is seen as an innate part of White British people. What this shows is that racialised and migratised communities are viewed as ‘less’ British through having innately different values systems that threaten societal “cohesion”; they have to learn to adapt.

It seems that ‘integration’ is an endless task for migratised and racialised communities; it doesn’t end with learning English, with gaining citizenship, or with any action. Instead, it seems that the project of integration can never be complete. Regardless of immigration status or citizenship, People of Colour are denied full access to a British identity, instead always being symbolic of ‘foreignness’, by having to prove that they belong, in contrast to everyone else.

Isn’t ‘integration’ different from ‘assimilation’?

One criticism we face over the word ‘integration’ centres around that we are mistakenly conflating it with ‘assimilation’. However, these two terms (alongside ‘cohesion’) have been used interchangeably so often that they represent the same conditional concept. Ultimately, the way integration is used today is not far off of its explicitly anti-migrant origins. It is used alongside mentions of ‘parallel societies’ and (a lack of) ‘British values’, in order to ‘other’ migrant and migratised communities. This again urges marginalised communities to discard aspects of their culture and identity in order to be ‘accepted’ or ‘tolerated’ in our society. We don’t believe that embracing migrants as part of our communities should be conditional. ‘Cohesion’ is now used in a similar way – migrant cultures do not threaten the unity of society.

While the focus historically was on newly arriving migrant communities, it has since expanded to target migratised communities more broadly. This is expressed in the Prevent Duty, which Muslims are disproportionately referred to, despite the overwhelming majority of cases resulting in no further action. 95% of cases result in no further action, with children as young as four being referred, because of the way that Prevent, and other policies focused on ‘integration’ maliciously misinterpret the words and actions of young Muslims.

Is it just in Britain? Why isn’t it a problem in other countries?

This isn’t just in Britain – in Sweden, Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson said that “integration has been too poor,” which creates “parallel societies” and, which has facilitated the growth of Muslim ‘extremism’. She said that the failure of integration has accompanied high levels of immigration, which has left society weak, following riots in response to Islamophobic provocation by a politician known for anti-immigrant rhetoric. Sweden had massively tightened immigration restrictions in preceding years. This case demonstrates the clear connections between the language of integration and anti-immigrant policies and actions that blame marginalised groups in society for violence and other harmful actions and rhetoric against them.

In the Netherlands, too, there is a ‘civic integration’ test, including a section on knowledge of Dutch society and culture and Dutch language proficiency tests. It is compulsory for all adult non-EU/EEC citizens seeking long-term or permanent residence in the Netherlands. However, like other integration policies, it has also been associated with limiting immigration, particularly as it has been made more difficult, and contributing to the ‘Othering’ of non-White populations. This makes the integration test a factor in how migrants are viewed as inherently different and inferior to people with Dutch citizenship from birth, as well as shaping prominent anti-migrant stereotypes in the Netherlands. These representations of migrants are mapped onto pre-existing representations of racialised populations in the Dutch colonial era.

‘Integration’ isn’t a neutral term

As a result, ‘integration’ and ‘cohesion’ are not neutral terms. Instead of bringing society together, policies associated with them are often more divisive, making migrants and racialised communities into ‘Others’ that can never be fully welcome in society. This is done through holding these populations to much higher standards than others. The hostile language and policies of integration must be removed. Integration forms an internal border that is unsurpassable for many racialised and migratised people. In order to have an equal society, where migrants and People of Colour are not viewed as less part of it, we must do away with the language and policies of integration.

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