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Tyrol's integration story

PEOPLE tend to look at migration and the subsequent integration of migrants into societies as a difficult, perhaps unsolvable problem. Johan Gstir of the Integration Unit of the Government of Tyrol’s human relations department, disagrees. Gstir is convinced that many aspects of the integration process are already working and that it is important to convince local populations that integration is indeed a positive challenge and that solutions to some of the problems have already been found.

PEOPLE tend to look at migration and the subsequent integration of migrants into societies as a difficult, perhaps unsolvable problem. Johan Gstir of the Integration Unit of the Government of Tyrol’s human relations department, disagrees. Gstir is convinced that many aspects of the integration process are already working and that it is important to convince local populations that integration is indeed a positive challenge and that solutions to some of the problems have already been found.

“Integration always involves cooperation between the migrants and the local population and it is never something that the migrants or the locals can do alone,” Gstir told a seminar on the Austrian local government and integration tool for migrants. The seminar was held in mid-July in Bratislava and was organised within the project Labour Pool for Migrants financed by the European Union.

There are currently 71,778 foreigners in Tyrol, which is about 10 percent of the local population, while the number of people with migration backgrounds stands at 109,000, according to data provided by Gstir.

Immigration in Tyrol is not a new phenomenon; it is a matter that populations have dealt with over centuries. Gstir believes that modern societies must operate in this area on different principles than they did 50 years ago. Integration is a cross-sectional challenge, which pertains to all sectors of the society, he added.

Gstir also suggested that people are often guided by misconceptions when looking at migration.

“When we raise the issue, most Austrians immediately think about the Muslim community, which does not reflect the situation in Austria at all,” Gstir said. “There are about 339,000 Muslims in Austria, less than 5 percent of the population, so fears about this community are greatly exaggerated.”

The government of Tyrol shaped its integration policy four years ago through the work of some 400 contributors. The project brought together not only integration experts but also people from the labour and education markets as well as other segments of society, Gstir explained.

“Integration work is not something we do just for migrants. It is a process which in the end helps to spare costs to society,” Gstir said. “We are not talking about uniformity and assimilation. What we have in mind is more in the area of compatibility of cultures. We have to give people who are arriving to the country a chance to participate. No one is willing to do certain jobs except the migrants.”

The administration also has been working to achieve a change in the attitudes of the majority population, who need to understand that integration is in no way assimilation but rather achieving a compatibility of variety, said Gstir. He also stressed that integration strategies must think in terms of individuals not the image of a huge “collective class of migrants”.

It is necessary to find a specific approach for every group, not a matter of applying the same blanket communication strategies, but rather seeking the codes which work with any particular group and, if one method doesn’t work, be ready to come up with another, said Galya Terzieva of Labour Pool for Migrants.

“If we work on an integrative society, we are dealing with different groups who are not at the centre of the society,” Gstir said. “However very soon we will find ourselves in a competitive fight for immigrants and our current integration policies will define our position in that fight.”

According to Gstir, the public debate about integration is far too often about negatives, but societies should also focus on the positive potentials of both immigrants and local populations.

He stressed that it is most important to pose the question of what we will all have to do to make integration a success instead of repeating programmes that have failed in the past.

“We have no other choice. Integration of immigrants is a reality that perhaps in a decade every single local administration will face”, Gstir concluded.


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