Including migrants and youth in local development

Perspectives from research

The research portion of the program started with Timothy Heleniak (Nordregio) who provided an overview of international immigration trends in the Nordic Region and introduced the project From Migrants to Workers. The dependency ratio is growing in many Nordic regions and, although the overall population of most Nordic countries is growing (Finland is the exception), smaller municipalities are observing population decline. Good news is that the more recent immigrants and refugees are spreading more widely, thus compensating for labour shortages. Key is to make them stay long-term. The biggest challenges for new migrants arriving in rural areas of the Nordics are learning the language, securing housing, and the transferability of skills and qualifications. Successful integration often relies upon civil society engagement, employers’ openness to apprenticeships and personal involvement from a dedicated, local integration coordinator. Download the presentation. 

Susanne Søholt (Norwegian Institute for Urban and Regional Research) complemented Timothy’s broader ideas by providing a more in-depth perspective of the situation in Norway and suggesting an urgent need to shift our thinking about migration “From problem to possibility”.  In the Norwegian case, the policy approach sees refugees distributed evenly across Norway’s 420 municipalities. Immigrants are much more likely to be overqualified for their job than Norwegians. This suggests that there is a huge underutilised potential within the Norwegian work force. Given many refugees who are originally placed in rural municipalities would like to stay; this underutilised potential could be a great asset to rural communities.  To ensure long-term integration, newcomers need to feel a sense of belonging through inclusion in local social networks, which is also a road to jobs, her research shows. Susanne’s presentation was based on the studies Derfor blir vi her – innvandrere i Distrikts-Norge (NIBR, 2012) and Sysselsetting av innvandrere – regionale muligheter og barrierer for inkludering (NIBR 2015) (both in Norwegian). Download the presentation. 

Next, we shifted the focus somewhat to hear from Anna Karlsdottìr (Nordregio) on young people’s future preferences in the Nordic Arctic. Nordregio’s research in this area found evidence that two global megatrends – mobility and urbanisation – are influencing young people’s behaviour and also their visions for the future. Limited access to education or vocational training is the no 1 reason why youth move away. Although it is difficult to control these trends, involving young people in local development and activities can be useful in increasing their sense of belonging, making it more likely that they will remain in, or at least return to, a community in the future – especially since “multi-locational lifestyle” seems to be a concept of their liking. 

Josefin Heed (Hela Sverige ska leva and Ung på landsbygden) echoed Anna’s advice and also encouraged us to rethink some of the stereotypes we have about both young people and rural places. It is impossible to put all young people into a single box, just as we can’t think of ‘rural places’ as one homogenous category. At the same time, categories of young/old and rural/urban are perhaps not as dichotomous as we might like to think. When it comes to how we can engage young people, thinking about why you want them there can be a good place to start – it’s easier to get someone inspired if they really feel their input has purpose and will be valued. Other tips included give responsibility and not being afraid to let people fail – and to give them a second chance if they do: Failing is learning! Download the presentation.

Liisa Perjo, Anna Berlina and Linda Randall (Nordregio) introduced us to the idea of social innovation – innovations that are social in both their ends and their means – as a tool for dealing with the demographic shift and enhance local service provision. Social innovation is all about social networks working together to solve a problem. The problem solving process then makes the community/society stronger leaving it better equipped to deal with new problems in the future.  On the new  Social Innovation in Local Development website there are 23 cases to learn from, including ‘ Emmaus Association’ (Åland), which addresses unemployment by acting as a middle-man between unemployed immigrants and local residents who require assistance with various tasks and  ‘Röstånga Together’ an inspirational example of community-driven local development with positive outcomes for both social and economic development. Download the presentation.

The final words of the morning came from Nordic Working Group member Klaus Georg Hansen (Government of Greenland), who attempted to shed some light on the question, Why are there still 72 inhabited places in Greenland? The answer is simple – for political reasons. The parliament is very focused on keeping these small settlements and there is a special Ministry for them as well, seeking to reverse the trend: Since 1970 the number of settlements is down from 110 to 72.  Ninety percent of the country’s population is born in Greenland. Ethnic groups are three, most are West Greenlanders. Despite a shrinking population, there are currently no refugees in Greenland. Next year, a new national survey on migration patterns will be published. Download the presentation.

Perspectives from practice

Asha Ismail Mohamud (Somaliska riksförbundet) and Jan Runfors (Landsbygdsnätverkets integrationsgupp) got the afternoon off to a great start by building on the idea of new migrants as an opportunity for rural regions by marketing these regions through existing ethnic organisations, such as Somaliska riksförbundet or the Syrian equivalent. They suggested that it is not only immigrants who will be changed through the process of coming to Sweden – the existing population also gets the opportunity to learn, develop and grow through their interaction with people who are new to the country. Their work is focused on supporting new migrants to develop social networks and social enterprises – and find job opportunities or build competencies through study circles (bildningsförbund). You can check out many examples of their work on YoutubeOrust mirakel. Download the presentation. 

For the Faroe Islands, David Im (Integration Coordinator, Immigration office, Tórshavn) explained that measures to integrate new migrants are still in their infancy. Currently, only 2.6 percent of the Faroese population has a foreign background (mainly from DK), but the number of EU labour migrants is increasing. Much work has been done in recent years however on both a national and a local level, including development of integration policies, hiring an integration coordinator, introducing a National Curriculum for Faroese as a Foreign Language, and several cultural events (to celebrate diversity) and training courses at the local level, involving civil society. Plans for the future include continued work to build cultural competence, realigning institutional policy with integration process, community interpretation, and more local integration programmes. Download the presentation.

Rúnar Helgi Haraldsson (Director, Multicultural and Information Center, Iceland) shared some of the trends currently being observed in Iceland. Although Iceland has always received quota refugees this process has historically been well organised and closely monitored by the government. Recent years have seen a rise in arrivals of undocumented asylum seekers, with numbers increasing from 36 in 2012, to over 1000 in 2016. This is presenting major challenges – even down to finding places for people to sleep. Still the bulk of migration to Iceland is labour migrants, now starting to have an impact on the age profile of the country – the largest group is in the age group 25-55. Another challenge relates to children of migrants dropping out of secondary school. Language is a big issue here as new migrants often stick to their own communities, predominantly using their native language. Increasing integration of young people into secondary schools and supporting them to achieve better results has become a top priority and there are plans to make courses available in different languages (e.g. Polish, English). Download the presentation.

In Nordland county in North Norway, Kirsten Springer Hasvoll (Senior Project Leader, Tillflytting projektet, Nordland Fylkeskommun) has been working to address population decline by attracting 10,000 new immigrants to Nordland (all kinds of migrants, not only refugees). Key priorities for the project are: Norwegian language training (more courses, better courses, more flexible courses); education, training and qualifications (skills certification, vocational guidance, vocational training); developing career centres; providing housing; continually recruiting new residents from abroad; democracy and community participation (including voluntary work);  and providing information (better, not more). The project includes a reference group of eight immigrants and has so far resulted in almost 7,800 new inhabitants. The community participation focus is one success factor. Download the presentation.

Joakim Svensson (Folkhälsan) provided some insight into the approach to integration on the Åland Islands – Building new contacts with teamwork and acts of friendship. The work is a collaboration between several organisations (e.g. the Red Cross) and includes offering refugees a home, language studies in Swedish and support from local families. Central to the approach is an idea of a community that includes everyone – transcending ‘us-and-them’ thinking. Also acknowledging that everyone has a story to tell – whether it’s about sharing life here in Åland or about where or how you came to be here. Most importantly, it’s about spending time together, sharing laughter and tears and letting people know what is possible – from fishing trips and nature walks to cooking classes and music nights.  Download the presentation.

Next we got a chance to hear from Tove Hestner (Hej Främling) from Nälden, Jämtland about a project lead exclusively by local residents. Residents saw that refugees were quite isolated in the refugee camps and wanted to include them in the local community of ca 800 people– also to encourage them to stay long-term. They started out by bringing activities to the refugee camps (clubs, skiing, singing, football etc.) but quickly grew to include excursions and a whole host of other activities – culminating at the annual activity week, engaging the whole community, all refugees and even local media. Check out the presentation to see some great pictures of some of these activities. Download the presentation.

Juan Manuel Gonzalez Mantero (Managing Partner, SAFE Group AS) is a private entrepreneur working in the Mid-Troms/Tranöy area to build residential housing for refugees – 40 buildings since 2012. The area has a lack of population but also lack of housing so building new housing is vital to growing the community. Juan is also working on job-creation, besides construction, such as cleaning services and tourism and travel-related services. The National Housing Bank has been an important enabler and the unfavourable taxation situation is a big barrier – creates cash-flow tensions in the rental and construction phase and negatively discriminating residential vs. commercial build-to-let real estate developments. Download the presentation.

Speaking from a slightly different perspective, Peter Rundkvist (Project Leader, Utveckling Nordost – LEADER) took us to Angered, a remote suburb to Göteborg, Sweden, where they are working to fight urban segregation and unemployment through local development initiatives in close collaboration with local farmers and other employers in the adjacent rural area. Strategies include increasing local food production, and supporting creativity, green entrepreneurship and business development among young people, women and immigrants. Exploring the urban-rural linkages is central to the project. Download the presentation.

Shifting the conversation to youth engagement, Sofie Skalstad (Ung på landsbygden & Nytänk) introduced us to Nytänk, a project by young people for young people that aims to improve everyday life for young people in Norrbotten. The group support young people to put their own ideas into action and host pop-up meetings to encourage young people to get involved. Often decision-makers just guess what young people think and why they move rather than inviting young people to join the conversation. Talk with instead of about young people, was a main message. The project also seeks to build bridges through meetings and events and to connect young rural people between towns and within. 

Guðrún Torfhildur Gísladóttir (Landsbyggdin Lifi) has been working to combat outmigration of young people from rural areas in Iceland. The work is part of the Opposing Force Project and included an electronic survey that received over 350 responses. The results of the survey suggest that young people are ready to live in rural areas if the conditions and basic services are right. The main things that young people reported as being important were: employment, friends and family, good access to services (including the internet and gas stations).  Read the full report (in Icelandic) or download the presentation.

Our final presentation for the day was from Karolina Wessman, chairperson of Melleruds Ungdomsråd (Melleruds Kommun). The Ungdomsråd or Youth Council supports the active involvement of young people in the Mellerud Community. The group has its own budget (100,000 SEK per year) and young people can seek money for different projects, for example, Mellerud Pride. There are no official rules about the types of projects – young people are free to suggest whatever they like. The Youth Council also have regular meetings with different decision-makers who want to know what young people want. They meet in the local youth centre (Ungdomshuset Stinsen). All meetings are open and everyone is welcome. Young people can also access the youth centre to hang out, study and get involved in various activities, including dance parties, gathering some 100 youth – both refugees and residents. Download the presentation.

Karolina’s presentation inspired a short discussion about youth councils in the Nordic countries – though, for the most part, knowledge on the subject was limited and based on individual experience. Approximately half  (7/14) of the municipalities in Norrbotten have them. In Iceland the law says there should be youth councils but they are more for consultation, not with own budgets and many of them never have meetings. In Finland, they exist but they don’t have a say, not making decisions, in the worst cases just “therapy”. The situation is thought to be similar in Norway. Norway also has migrant councils which in some places are quite active. 

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