Guest post from IOM on why inclusion begins in our communities

Guest post: Abby Dwommoh, IOM UK Communications Officer talks to us about why inclusion begins in our communities: 

Media and social media have a way of broadcasting extreme views that tend to drown out the voices of the moderate middle. Migration is no exception and it may surprise you, but attitudes in Britain (and even Europe) are becoming increasingly optimistic about migration.

Over the last year, multiple independent polls are finding the same. While immigration can still be a divisive issue, national debates do not always reflect local experiences and realities. Cities around the world (and around Britain) are leading initiatives for greater inclusion for migrants, refugees and host communities to learn about each other and share their expectations. It is through this mutual and reciprocal relationship that there can be greater acceptance that can lead to lasting benefits.

This is the idea of inclusion, but what is it really?

Imagine being invited to a party where you know no one. As anyone would be, you are a bit anxious and give a few shy smiles. No one approaches you, but a few sidelong glances are shot in your direction. You become uncomfortable and spot someone with whom you feel you can relate. Gravitating towards that person, the rest of the party is spent talking to the one person without getting to know the rest of the party.

Now imagine walking into the same party, but this time you are greeted with warm smiles upon entering. Feeling more confident, you walk up to the nearest group and introduce yourself and join the conversation. In this instance, you would likely feel more comfortable and make an effort to meet many other party-goers.

This is what it means to be an inclusive community. How newcomers — like migrants, refugees or anyone really — perceive the new community can influence their own willingness to participate in society once they arrive.

Local communities play a key role in managing effective migration and integration policies, which was manifested in both the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM) and the Global Compact on Refugees (GCR) signed by countries from across the world last December, including the UK.

GCM and GCR signatories recognize that migrants and refugees introduce fresh ideas, resources and perspectives that improve local economic, social and cultural dynamics and help turn cities into vibrant, diverse, dynamic and prosperous hubs of opportunity and innovation.

In Britain, we are seeing this in our own communities who have pledged themselves as cities of sanctuary to welcome into their community those who are different. By doing so, communities recognize the benefits diversity can bring, but also recognize that there are challenges as well.

Bristol is one example. Last year, it held the Global Parliament of Mayors and Bristol Mayor Rees represented local governments at the signing of the GCM. Walk the streets of Bristol and you will hear 91 languages from people of over 180 different nationalities. With 16 per cent of its population from outside the UK, Bristol is a global city.

But what does that mean for the city and how is it fairing? In September 2018, Bristol had the highest employment rate in the UK (76.6 per cent), above the national average according to the Office of National Statistics. That is an important accomplishment and while I cannot claim that diversity is the reason for this high rate of employment, it is testimony to the fact that it is not an explicit impediment.

Migration is as old as human history. Our ancestors were hunter-gather-migrants, always looking to find the best place to support their families. Migration is part of humanity and by taking active steps to provide opportunities for migrants, refugees and host communities to come together and learn from each other, communities can be the catalyst for inclusion. Communities (and local authorities) should be empowered to harness the opportunities migration can bring, to manage its challenges and to identify practical means to learn from and exchange best practices amongst cities. By doing so, they can become more active in the global arena — like Bristol — which gives opportunities to build upon existing forms of collaboration in the future.

And these conversations — about what we are doing and what we should be doing to have inclusive cities — are happening around the country. This Refugee Week we will be having this conversation in Bristol but it must be held in all communities to work its way to national and global levels. Will you join in?

Event: One City, Many Stories will take place on 19th June, 5.30-7pm at Bristol City Hall.