Europe’s population is becoming increasingly diverse, while its capitals true melting pots of cultures and people.
And while we are discussing how to integrate the continent’s economies and population, we seem to forget that nowadays Europe is not a homogenous region. Apart from the indigenous ethnic minorities, many people from all over the world now call Europe “home”.
If we are planning to create a diverse multicultural society, we have to discuss how to integrate these people too; they may have arrived in our continent more recently, yet they know no other home country. We can only make a progress in their integration, when we discuss openly the issues they are facing and try to find solutions. One of the main ethnic groups that still face discrimination in Europe, are individuals of African origin.
Zephrynus “Zeph” Ikeh, the founder and CEO of Africa-Irish Development Initiative Ltd (AIDI) and Project Coordinator of Black History Month Ireland (BHMI), describes how young African immigrants are coping in Ireland.
He has been living in Ireland since 2008 and he is very involved in community work. He has a different opinion on the way people view the integration process. “We cannot speak about integration when people are not included,” he says. According to him, the essence of inclusion is for people to be involved and participate in all aspects of society’s life. “I do not see that happening in the mainstream Irish society, even within the immigrant community” he describes.
Integration for Zeph means equal opportunities in education and employment, social and economic inclusion. For African migrants, the support is definitely not always there. While those who have acquired a European nationality see themselves as EU citizens, they often do not have the same opportunities to feel like one.
A big problem is the lack of information, for EU citizens in general but especially for African migrants. There may be a lot of opportunities, but the access to the information needed to avail them is an issue for everybody.
“If there were more immigrants working in government bodies, they could provide all information needed to the immigrant community” Zeph explains.
He also believes that to integrate people from different cultures there must be a creation of various platforms to encourage the integration process; in schools, in community participation projects, cultural events, intercultural festivals etc.
Zeph thinks that the EU must promote cultural diversity and that has to be extended to the immigrant communities. The club’s members are sovereign states but through the EU, Europe could collectively do more to support the integration process. For example the media do not help much to the situation. “Often the images they use to portray immigrants or especially Africans are very stereotypical” explains Zeph. He also mentions the lack of positive role models of African or other migrant origin in European media.
In Italy a couple of years ago, there was an unacceptable incident when people racially abused the Minister for Integration Cecile Kyenge. There was just not enough condemnation by Europe, or action taken to set up an example.
Many Africans perceived that as a very tolerant stance from European governments, regarding it as racism towards politicians of African origin on our continent. If these people got away with it, then others possibly will do it, too. “Does Europe think it is a club only for white people?” asks Zeph.
“You got to understand that an immigrant is someone who has come to a place to settle, not leave after some years. A migrant is someone who has come to a place for a short time” he continues.
His opinion is that European countries treat both groups the same way and that has to be changed. Our governments must establish legislation to assist and promote the immigrants’ integration into our societies.
Bringing only Ireland as an example, Zeph thinks that the political spectrum is one very sided. “There is a stereotypical view of what is Irish or European,” he adds. But that is not only an Irish phenomenon, most EU countries struggle in integrating fully their immigrant communities. So potentially the key is a pan-European effort to eliminate discrimination.
Also, he suggests that certain steps must be taken to assist further integration. For example, there must be some effort and funding to establish media created by immigrant journalists or broadcasters, with a different opinion and content that would interest those of an ethnic background. There should be additionally opportunities for young African immigrants to get engaged in local, national or European politics. As ignorance is the main problem that generates racism, therefore Zeph believes that through education in all its levels we could fight prejudice.
“Young Africans can contribute a lot to the Irish or European society,” Zeph describes. “There is a lot of potential talent in areas such as sport and music, but also entrepreneurship, yet they do not get access to grants so that they can develop their talents,” he continues.
Zeph brings as an example the African-American contribution to America’s arts, music and sports. He believes that Africans can offer a different perspective and act as a bridge between Africa and Ireland or Europe.
“They can definitely help change the world and create better relationship between Europe and Africa, if only they are encouraged” Zeph concludes.
Our world is becoming increasingly multi-polar, as many new global powers are emerging in other continents, while Europe is a region with limited resources. How it treats its immigrants could potentially influence the future, help forge stronger alliances with the countries of origins of its immigrants.
In other words Europe must decide what it wants. It is in our interests not to have second class citizens, that feel alienated and hostile towards the societies they were born. Given the opportunity they could become an asset, not a burden to our continent.
Europe cannot trap individuals in limbo, using them for cheap labour while hindering their progress. Immigration issues should not be ignored. European nations are becoming more xenophobic recently, but further exclusion is not the answer.
Edited by: Lilit Mkrtchyan