chapter  1
16 Pages

‘Integration’: Migrants and Refugees between Scandinavian Welfare Societies and Family Relations

ByKaren Fog Olwig

This volume examines understandings, practices and experiences of immigration and social incorporation in the three Scandinavian countries of Denmark, Norway and Sweden. It focuses, in particular, on the ways in which migrants and refugees seek to establish a meaningful life betwixt and between, on the one hand, expectations of ‘proper integration’, as expressed in public debate and implemented through various government initiatives and, on the other, the ambitions and desires for a better life for themselves and their families that have led them to opt for migration or flight to another country. Denmark, Norway and Sweden provide an interesting and fruitful framework of

comparison. They share a parallel history of migration, being dominated by outmigration until the 1960s and 1970s, when they experienced a great increase in unskilled foreign labour migrants needed in industry. After this brief period of relatively liberal immigration policy, the countries have increasingly instituted restrictions so that immigration has virtually only become possible through family reunification or the conferral of refugee status.1 Furthermore, Denmark, Norway and Sweden are all welfare states developed to a great extent by strong Social Democratic governments. They

are based on the universalist ‘Nordic model’, where welfare services are provided through national agencies, closely integrated into the public sector and funded by general taxation (Andersen 1984). The right to the services of the welfare state is therefore based on citizenship or residency, not on previous employment, income or contribution to the welfare system. The Scandinavian welfare systems, particularly through their extensive social services and national health programmes, have thus assumed many of the responsibilities that, in other countries, are undertaken by the family, private organisations or businesses, albeit with the help of state support. The main exception is support to the unemployed, administered through the unions and based on individual contributions and state funding. Through these welfare programmes the Scandinavian states intervene directly in people’s private lives, and this is widely accepted by their populations, which have a generally positive attitude toward the state and public authorities (Jöhncke 2011; see also Schmidt; Larsen this volume). The Nordic welfare model has therefore worked because the national populations have been willing to pay high income taxes in exchange for access to a range of welfare services. The welfare system has provided an important framework for the incorporation of

immigrants and refugees into Scandinavia. At a specific level, many newcomers learn about Scandinavian society primarily through health clinics, social service centres, integration programmes and - in the case of refugees - asylum centres; their personal encounters with the local population involve mainly staff on these various welfare programmes. At a general level, immigrants and refugees have been expected to actively take part, as workers and taxpayers, in the reciprocal social and economic relations between the state and the local population fundamental to the Nordic model. Since the 1980s they have been subjected to ideologies and policies of integration tied to Scandinavian notions of equality that have had an important impact on immigrants’ and refugees’ opportunities to settle and develop a sense of belonging in the receiving society. The Scandinavian case studies thus clearly demonstrate that integration is not just an analytic term measuring levels of social incorporation according to pre-defined parameters of achievement within, for example, employment, housing and education. It has become an emic term denoting the ability to conform to social norms and cultural values defined in dominant discourse as basic to proper citizenship. ‘Integration’ therefore has become a powerful notion, designating who belongs - and by implication who does not belong - in society (cf. Olwig and Pærregaard 2011). The way in which integration becomes defined as a societal concept designating

social inclusion and exclusion is closely related to the overall policy and general attitudes towards immigrants and refugees prevalent in society. Here the three countries display clear differences, as they have reacted, as nation-states, to the presence of foreigners in very dissimilar ways. Denmark, a small country that has dwindled in size through decolonisation and military defeat and developed as a modern state largely through cooperative movements based in traditionally rural, agricultural society, seems to have become an increasingly closed, nationalistic society with restrictive immigration policies. Sweden, on the other hand, a country with a more centralist nation-state and a long history of heavy industry drawing on skilled foreign labour, has asserted itself as a progressive country with an official multicultural policy, celebrating cultural diversity and a more liberal policy of family reunification and refugee admittance. Norway, traditionally based on a maritime as well as a rural economy, has opted for a middle course, but with a tendency to move toward the more restrictive policies of Denmark. While these differences have had a significant bearing on how immigrants and refugees

have been perceived in public debate and treated in terms of legislation in the three countries, the case studies in this volume show that, at the level of everyday life, the three countries display many of the same problems. To some extent, these shared problems can be ascribed to the nature of the bureaucratic systems that administer the official policies of the countries within local contexts of life. On the basis of a comparative analysis of European bureaucratic structures, Jordan

et al. (2003a, 2003b) show that bureaucrats in general have a great deal of discretionary power when applying immigration policy at the level of individuals or families, because the ‘individual situations’ of the particular cases are usually ‘too complicated to fit into the standard formats of policy provisions’ (2003a: 213). For this reason the treatment of newcomers may be influenced by a host of external factors such as the wish of individual administrators to protect particular social and economic interests, their desire to assert their position of power vis-à-vis their clients or their belief in various cultural and racial stereotypes (Jordan et al. 2003a, 2003b). Thus, while a specific country’s laws and policies clearly have a great impact on immigrants and refugees, the ways in which bureaucrats use their discretionary powers in the administration of these official regulations will strongly influence how newcomers will experience life in the receiving society. Several studies have pointed to the factors which may play a role in the administer-

ing policies in relation to immigrants and refugees within the context of Scandinavian welfare societies. Nannestad et al. (2008) argue in a Danish study that there is a general tendency to distrust strong ethnic communities - called ‘parallel societies’ - because they are seen to be in conflict with the principle of generalised social loyalty and economic exchange associated with welfare societies based on the universalist model. There will, therefore, be a strong desire to ‘integrate’ these ‘parallel societies’ into the wider society and, as will be seen, Scandinavian welfare societies have instituted a large number of integrative measures during the past decades. Engebrigtsen, however, suggests in her study of integration processes in Norway that the welfare society in and of itself involves a ‘state regime of discipline [that] takes a special turn towards migrants in the shape of an elaborate and compulsory system of ‘resocialisation’ (2007: 733). She found that this ‘resocialisation’ was based on commonsense cultural assumptions concerning ‘proper’ social relations that were difficult to reconcile with official policies of multiculturalism. There is therefore a gap between declared policies of multiculturalism and the administrative practices taking place. A similar conclusion is reached by Pitkänen and Kouki (2002) in their analysis of Finnish administrators’ attitudes towards immigrants. They conclude that the administrators found cultural diversity confusing and displayed strong assimilationist tendencies. By exploring the complex encounters between welfare systems and immigrants and

refugees through the lens of newcomers, the authors in this volume analyse and compare notions and practices of integration in relation to particular groups of immigrants and refugees in the three Scandinavian societies. These groups represent different periods and conditions of migration into Scandinavia. The Cape Verdeans, Pakistanis and Vlachs arrived during the period from the 1950s to the 1970s when labour migrants were regarded as a welcome addition to the labour force. The Bosnian, Tamil and other refugees - and the reunified family members of the original labour migrants - who came after 1980, met a society where there was little need for labour and outsiders tended to be viewed as a burden to the welfare system. The analyses show that an important aspect of this development is the ‘cultural anxiety’ (Grillo 2003) or ‘cultural


fundamentalism’ (Stolcke 1995) that has emerged throughout Europe, in part as a response to the increasing immigration that has taken place in recent decades. As the authors demonstrate, this ‘cultural anxiety’ is not innocent but highly racialised, being directed primarily at people who are viewed as belonging elsewhere because their physical appearance is perceived as different. Together, the contributions in this volume shed light on three important and closely

interrelated themes of particular salience to integration as an issue of central concern in Scandinavian societies and, thereby, of central significance for the immigrants’ and refugees’ ability to pursue their goals. These themes are: Integration as Political Discourse and Practice; Integration as a Welfare Project; and Integration as a Quest for Improvement and Belonging.