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Integration - How can we improve it for refugees and immigrants?
What promotes and what hampers it?

Project Summary



Christina Spännar, TFF co-founder & Project Director


July 31, 2006


Phase 1 2004-2005

A common project conducted by the municipality of Eslöv - a small town in Southern Sweden - Eslöv Apartments Inc., the Police in Eslöv, the Swedish Church, the Social Insurance Office, the Transnational Foundation (TFF), ERF - The European Refugee Fund (through the Swedish Integration Board and the Swedish Migration Board).

Project director: Christina Spännar from TFF.


The aims

The aim is to develop a model that can help mitigate the integration process for refugees, asylum seekers and other immigrants who knock on the door to Eslöv. The model shall be developed through partners in a network, i.e. an information and communication structure. On the one hand, there are the actors and authorities who receive the immigrants in a variety of functions; on the other, we will work with refugees who - through their experiences of the encounter with Swedish society - are able to give us images of what that encounter looks like from their side.

As an important part of the project, we want to encourage refugees to write down, or be interviewed about, their life stories and reflections. These women and men should be selected in terms of ethnic background, education, and age so they create a broad and many-facetted image of the process, its problems as well as joys. Similar thought and experiences will be drawn out of the discussion groups we will establish with youth in particular.

Some of the intellectual underpinnings of this project can be found in Christina Spännar's doctoral dissertation in sociology from 2001, Med främmande baggage (With foreign luggage) that deals with a series of project-relevant issues. For more, see this TFF PressInfo.

About the first project phase of this immigration project, Christina says:

My idea was to try to connect the various actors who, in their work, meet the refugees and other immigrants with people who have their own experience of migration and integration. The purpose was to get an image of the other side of that encounter. Further, in order to learn more about how the encounter with the Swedish society is experienced, I wanted - through storytelling - to give a voice to about twenty refugees and other immigrants.


What promotes smooth integration?

Based on conversations, reflections, discussions and seminars I drew the conclusion that the following factors promote integration:

- Trustful relations. The trust and confidence in oneself and in others that human beings are capable of is one of the great driving forces of society. Curiosity and creativity is based on trust. Confidence permits us to dare do things. It develops through the interplay between us as human beings and citizens on the one hand and the world around us on the other.

- Dialogue. Dialogue is essential because it means mutuality and listening.

- Integration platforms or 'warm places' where people can meet and relations unfold. It is places where you can do things together, not the least things that do not require the spoken word - music, song, theatre and art - but anyhow implies creating something together.

- Acknowledgement of the general human needs for self-esteem and for being part of a community coupled with a sense of order and coherence, with meaning, in one's life.

- The ability to see oneself through the eyes of others.

- Awareness of the fact that what is self-evident to me is not necessarily so to others.

- Continuity in initiatives and activities since continuity helps create coherence.

- Flexibility - since it permits us to take into consideration and care for the particular individual's qualifications and needs.

All these factors have their place in the individual's perspective.


What hampers integration?

Likewise, I concluded that the following factors hamper integration:

- The "we" and "them" thinking. It implies a generalisation based on the 'foreign' origin of the other.

- Structures that have been established to fit collectively generalizing views and integration procedures.

- Departmentalization - since it impedes co-operation and synergy.

- Ignorance about the real conditions in many of the countries from where the refugees and other immigrants come to Sweden.

- Coercion and constraints - which can only be experienced as humiliating. People who are being coerced tend to offer resistance in one or more ways. It is no more surprising than in the tale about how the wind and the sun competed about who would first make a man take off his coat…


Apart from all the work on the ground, seminars and discussions, these two publications came out of the first phase:


Christina Spännar
"Report from a year in Eslöv. Integration - what promotes and what hampers it?"
Introduction, background and wider context, participating authorities, the project's development, a series of constructive proposals, proposal of a model and ending with selected conclusions and a postscript.
In Swedish only, pdf 504 KB, 104 pp, printed and in pdf format, December 2005.


Christina Spännar
"With roots in foreign lands. Twenty stories."
It's tough to leave everything behind, travel to a new country, encounter all its differences and to, finally, get to feel at home in the new country. This book gives voice to persons from Palestine, former Yugoslavia, various countries in the Middle East, Burundi, Hungary, former Soviet Union and from Latin America; they tell us about the many steps on that road and how they feel today and how they look back upon it.
In Swedish only, 4,9 MB; illustrated with the author's photos from various countries. 96 pp, printed and in pdf format; December 2005.



Phase 2: 2006 -

This phase is conducted in close co-operation with TFF Associate Vibeke Bing. Vibeke is a social worker, lecturer and author. Organizations involved in addition to those in Phase 1: The Swedish Association of Family Centres and The Foundation "Allmänna Barnhuset" - The House of Children."


"Frosty Feet"

It feels as if cold winds sweep over Sweden, in the face of children and youth with roots in foreign lands. The risk is that they will freeze in their development instead of running happily into a safe future.


The aims

The purpose of this phase is to try to implement some of the proposals that were presented by the participants in the first phase. We also intend to explore the qualifications and potentials of the Swedish family centrals to promote integration in the future.

- The planned work builds on the integration analysis and work that has been done in the municipality of Eslov in Southern Sweden and, similarly, in three family centrals in Malmö, another, larger municipality.

- Integration into the Swedish society is a societal, inter-human and inter-cultural process. One precondition for its success is mutually trustful relations and respect, the main tool is communication and the road to it must be paved by knowledge and education and, thereby, a solid understanding for the values and norms on both sides of the encounter. This should counterbalance generalisations and stereotypes as well as social border-creation and open more doors to dialogue and mutual learning.

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- Human relations can be promoted where integration platforms and "warm places" exist. They offer safe physical spaces for meetings among people who have their roots in different countries and cultures; they provide opportunities for the development of trustful relations through dialogue. Dialoguing implies mutuality and active listening which, in turn, enhances the ability to see oneself through the other. If so, chances are that we all become more conscious of the fact that what is self-evident to me is not necessarily the same as what is self-evident to others.

- The creation of "warm places" must take place with many involved parties from a variety of social spheres, e.g. the municipalities, the region, the churches, cultural institutions, formal education and vocational training and the police. We shall try also to identify and involve whatever forces which could be helpful in improving the integration process but which remain underutilized or hidden resources today.

At present - summer 2006 - we are in the process of developing the grant application and identify additional partners.

One first activity is a conference with interested individuals and cooperation partners at Sätra Bruk, August 28-30, 2006.

You can read more about Eslöv here.

And there is much more about the project, its partner organization and all the individuals who particpate in it at the TFF Eslov Forum - but, alas, only in Swedish!


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© TFF & the author 2006  


A project funded by the EU


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