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Limits of the multiculturalism model

The "multiculturalism" model, popular in Anglo-Saxon countries, is also not adapted to the challenges faced by migrant-receiving countries in the South. Many developing countries already display a great diversity of backgrounds. First, the geographic diversity implies that immigrants face very different challenges according to the country in which they settle. Even within countries, geographic and demographic differences are considerable. The dichotomy between rural and urban settlements, coupled with the population density in migrant-receiving areas, is particularly significant in terms of immigrant integration. The low level of national economic integration in many countries means that many regions operate semi-autonomously; regional cultures thus dominate in economic, social, cultural and even legal aspects.

Moreover, and even if the neighbouring effect means that cultures are somewhat similar, most societies in the South already exhibit high levels of cultural diversity. Even if the Ewe and Akan share relatively similar habits compared to the Jat and Bengalis, it does not mean their habits are not different (and vice versa, in India). Based on pure ethnicity, the South is in general more diverse - but cultures between migrants and locally born populations are relatively closer.

Cultural diversity is a consequence of the geographic diversity of the South. Even though a significant share of migration from Southern countries consists of intra-regional flows, cultural differences between countries of origin and destination remain significant. In particular, the diversification of flows in the last years implies growing cultural differences between immigrants and native populations, which may deter integration (as discussed in various contexts and regions in Amor et al., 2010; Lucassen, 2005; Ozyurt, 2009). In these circumstances relying on a model with the objective of facilitating the ethnic character of many communities may simply be aiming for the status quo - and not necessarily be helping integration.

As an illustration, Figures 3.4 and 3.5 show ethnic and linguistic fractionalisation in a number of OECD countries in comparison with West Africa.17 Both indicate a much higher prevalence of diversity in West Africa. Even in countries considered very multi-ethnic, such as the United States and Belgium, diversity is lower than in West Africa.

Figure 3.4. Ethnic fractionalisation by country, OECD vs. West Africa

Note: for Figures 3.4 and 3.5: The fractionalisation data set measures the degree of ethnic (racial characteristics), linguistic and religious heterogeneity in various countries (only linguistic and ethnic are shown). The higher the index, the more fractionalised are the countries. In most cases the primary source is national censuses, and often based on subjective judgement. Information on how the index is compiled and issues of comparability are explained in Alesina et al. (2010).

Source: Alesina et al. (2003), revised in 2010.

This has important repercussions for integration, which might be more connected to internal fractionalisation than nationality. Continuing with the example of West Africa, immigration within the region is perhaps more part of the greater urbanisation process unfolding in developing countries; or at least to a certain extent. In 1960 urban population accounted for around 15% of the West African population; it was about 44% in 2005 (OECD, 2009a). As borders and ethnic lines are not congruent in West Africa, internal and international and migration are often part of the same process: rural Malians and Senegalese moving to Dakar, rural Beninois and Nigerians moving to Lagos.

Discrimination against new members of society may in this case not be the same as discrimination against foreigners. In some cases international migrants are more easily integrated than internal migrants as part of the same process of urbanisation. Good examples of this phenomenon are found in the SKBo region18 and the "mega-region" running from Accra to Ibadan, through Lagos (Dahou et al., 2002; UN-Habitat, 2010). A survey conducted by UN-Habitat in 2009 found differences in responses on social exclusion in seven different African cities were nearly the same for international immigrants and rural migrants (Figure 3.6).


Figure 3.5. Linguistic fractionalisation by country, OECD vs. West Africa

Tackling the Policy Challenges of Migration © OECD 2011

Figure 3.6. Perceived degree of exclusion of underprivileged groups

(seven African cities)

Note: Average of ratings (on a scale of 0 to 5, 5 being high perceived exclusion) by local experts responding to the UN-HABITAT 2009 survey in seven African cities (Abuja, Accra, Dakar, Ibadan, Johannesburg, Mombasa, Nairobi).

Source: UN-HABITAT (2010).

Under these circumstances, defining and measuring immigrant integration become much more difficult (see Box 3.2). Integration in West Africa has much more to do with human rights, attitudes and perceptions, often in very hidden forms, than with the formal right on paper to be protected or the economic convergence of immigrants. The neighbouring effect and multi-ethnic makeup of the South obscure many of the problems of integration, because on the one hand new members of society have a culture which is close to that of the locally born. Yet on the other there are so many of these small groups that society is extremely multi-ethnic. Moreover, the mere fact that they are labelled migrants provides the authorities with the opportunity to blame all that ails in society on them, with little political repercussion.

Box 3.2. How can we measure integration in the South?

Measures of integration in the North are hardly applicable in the South. First, legal benchmarking indices, such as they are practised in Europe, are less relevant than in the North because laws and regulations are not enforced. Measuring whether discrimination is a crime punishable by law or not between countries is futile if the legal system is burdensome, inefficient or nearly non-existent. Second, many of the outcomes measured for the integration of immigrants in the North are simply not applicable in the South because they are based on economic and social outcomes that are also less likely to be achieved by the locally born. Trying to measure whether immigrants have access to the formal job market might not be useful in many cases, particularly when 80% of the population are informally employed.

Studies need rather to focus on different measures of discrimination, reflecting the field realities of the country - services and benefits easily accessible to most of the local population. This can be done, for example, by focusing on a very flexible, yet realistic, definition of wages and employment, and by comparing the wages of informal working immigrants in a specific sector with those of their local counterparts. The key lies in identifying the more comparable counterpart. Although it costs more, experimental testing can also help in revealing whether subtle discrimination exists (see the experiment by Bossuroy and Selway (2011) in Chennai, India as an example).

Because not only immigrants, but also the poorest locally born, live in large, informal slums, studies also need to focus on measures of segregation, that is, turning to the sociological concept of spatial analysis as a measure of integration (Lee, 2009). For instance, in cities where slums are the norm for a large part of the population, an important way to measure immigrant integration is by observing the spatial component of city living arrangements as between locals and immigrants over time. Attempting simply to measure outcomes may not reveal the true driving force behind non-integration - it may be that segregation between the two groups in different ghettos is contributing to non-integration.

But objective data are clearly not enough. Subjective questions in surveys, such as attitude towards immigrants or degree of acceptance in society, may be the easiest and quickest way to reveal, and even predict, whether discrimination and conflict pose a problem. Periodic views on integration and acceptance in the community, on immigration and on work and life satisfaction would help determine the likely non-linear relationship between immigration and integration outcomes (see, for instance, Fertig, 2004, or Maxwell, 2010).

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