A demonstrator marches to the Houses of Parliament, during a protest in support of refugees in London, September 17, 2016. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls
“What the world needs now, is love, sweet love”, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) UK’s partner, the Mixed up Chorus Choir sings. It’s a cold night in a community hall in London. This is a non-auditioning choir: everyone is welcome, and everyone’s voice is valued, no matter how different it is, because when everyone sings together in harmony, a sweet symphony arises.
As the United Nations Migration Agency, we are celebrating the theme of integration to mark International Migrants Day this year in the UK. In recent times, communities have seen a widening gap between their native citizens and migrants. There is a fear of the “other” – the migrant – which prevents productive dialogue, both between and within groups. This fear risks further entrenching polarised views and moves us away from constructing a shared set of values and norms - ones that can be established through community activities fostering connection and integration.
This is by no means the first time the importance of shared interests and common ground for the successful integration of migrants has been pointed out. Choirs and sports, are excellent mechanisms for supporting positive relationships and building the basis of thriving multicultural communities. The New Mixed Up Chorus choir provides a platform for migrants to share their stories and express a community voice through music. Recent studies have suggested that choral singing promotes increased speed of social bonding, and is effective for bringing together large groups.
What more can we be doing to encourage the acknowledgement that we are in fact more similar than we might think? As MP Jo Cox so poignantly stated, “we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us”. Discussing the refugee situation in schools can ensure that our communities are more aware of the existing division. The British Red Cross has created resources to encourage primary school children to discuss their perception of refugees. At secondary level, students are encouraged to think about what it would be like to feel unsafe in their own homes and what they would take with them if they were forced to flee. Ideas such as these create a space in which we can educate the youngest members of our community how to respect migrants and alleviate fear of the “other”.
These activities and local integration policies can lay common foundations in our communities: assuring people that their way of life will not be eroded, while affording migrants the opportunity to engage, live in safety, and be included in their new home community. Existing research, including from the McKinsey Institute, University College London, OECD and the IMF posits that effectively managed migration presents advantages in fuelling social growth and innovation, economic gains, entrepreneurship, and improving living standards. These reports highlight that focusing on long-term integration is vital.
City of Sanctuary, a grassroots movement, is building a network of towns throughout the UK which offer support to those in need of safety. By creating a sense of community and shared action, individuals are offered a safe space in which to confront their assumptions and fears of migration, and relate to the similarities between their own lives and the lives of others. Integration efforts however, come in more than one form. In November this year, IOM UK accompanied a group of refugees to a football match at Wembley Stadium. This served as an example of an existing community space that can provide a common purpose for integration. The results of using an existing communal atmosphere were incomparable.
A comprehensive approach by the government and society to integration is important for achieving successful outcomes that lead to strengthened social cohesion, greater economic activity and a win-win for the refugees and host societies. This International Migrants Day, we seek to celebrate these initiatives fostering integration and emphasise the need to continue to support these initiatives. Further development of a national integration strategy, and also more localised integration strategies supported by both government and community groups are therefore vital.
Opinion piece by Dipti Pardeshi, Chief of Mission at IOM UK, first published by Thomson Reuters Foundation News.
 McKinsey Global Institute, ‘People on the Move: Global Migration’s Impact and Opportunity’, - J Woetzel et al, December 2016.
University College London, Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration, Christian Dustmann and Tommaso Frattini, “The Fiscal Effects of Immigration to the UK”, Economic Journal, Vol.124, Issue 580, pages F593–F643, 2014.
OECD, Migration Policy Debates, ‘Is migration good for the economy?’, May 2014
International Monetary Fund, Spillover Taskforce, ‘Impact of Migration on Income Levels in Advanced Economies’ – Florence Jaumotte, Ksenia Koloskova, and Sweta C. Saxena, 2016.