What do immigrants need? Not a minority protection mechanism. Prof. Kymlicka shares his views.

Prof. Will Kymlicka shared his views on ‘new’ and ‘old’ minorities, extending the scope of minority protection mechanisms, and challenges and weaknesses of integration policies for immigrants in Europe.

Should the scope of protection mechanisms of national minorities be extended to include migrant communities in Europe?

Calling it a “difficult puzzle”, Prof. Kymlicka argues against a common legal and administrative framework for national minorities and immigrant communities, and puts forward the specific needs and interests that these groups have. “I don’t think the best way to address the question of what immigrants need is by asking whether they should be included in national minorities’ framework or not. It is genuinely a difficult puzzle, whether we should be trying to develop a common framework that covers both types of groups or whether it is better to maintain separate legal and administrative frameworks.”

“My own view is that there are reasons why they both have developed on different tracks. It is in the interests of both groups to have legal and administrative frameworks that are adjusted to their specific needs and interests. There is not something inherently pernicious or exclusionary in dealing with these different kinds of diversity with different frameworks.”

What are the real challenges and the weaknesses of the European integration policies of immigrant communities?

“The real problem is that the framework to deal with migration is very weak in Europe,” Prof Kymlicka said with regards to the diversity of European integration policies on migrant communities and their weaknesses. Coming from Canada, a state with advanced multiculturalism policy and integration of immigrant communities, he takes a critical approach to European examples. “I come from a country which has a quite an elaborate framework for promoting integration, participation, the belonging of immigrant groups. The Canadian approach has its own strengths and weaknesses and gaps but still, there are a lot of policy tools that can promote integration and equality. At a pan-European level there is an enormous variety of integration policies towards immigrants and while some of that variety is good, others are harshly coercive and paternalistic. The whole policy framework on immigrants in Europe has changed quite dramatically in past 20 years; there has been a lot of disturbing elements such as the rise of populist anti-immigrant policies, and the rise of harshly paternalistic policies.”

“People perceive Germany as being the hardest country in which to acquire citizenship, but that has changed”, he noted about the German example, highlighting that is among the better examples within Europe. “If you look at other countries and the way they are dealing with family reunification, residency rights, and access to the welfare state, we see in many European countries how immigrants have to jump through so many hoops in order to renew their residency and get access to welfare state. That to my mind is the real challenge.”

What are the solutions and how should we meet the needs of immigrant groups? Prof. Kymlicka emphasized the importance of history and drawing relevant analysis from the already existing practices:

“Let’s start with what the real situation of immigrant communities is, what are the problems arising with these communities, specific to them during the process of migration, settlement and integration. As Prof. Tariq Madood said during his speech at the conference, we are not starting from a blank, we have some track record. We have 50 years of practices of the integration of immigrant groups: good and bad practices. And we should be able to compare those and draw some conclusions on what is working well.”

Prof. Will Kymlicka, one of the leading political philosophers of his generation, has contributed greatly to political philosophy, multiculturalism and minority rights. He is the Canada Research Chair in Political Philosophy at Queen’s University in Kingston, Canada. He is also a member of the ECMI Advisory Council. His research interests focus on issues of democracy and diversity, and, in particular, on models of citizenship and social justice within multicultural societies.

Among the other distinguished scholars, Prof. Kymlicka was one of the keynote speakers at the ECMI and EURAC Conference entitled ‘What’s in a Name? Extending the Existing Scope of Protection for National Minorities to Migrant Communities in Europe’ in Villa Vigoni where he delivered a keynote speech during the first session of the conference on ‘Reassessing the ‘Minority’ Concept – Towards a More Inclusive or More Differentiated Conceptualisation of ‘Old’ and ‘New’ Minorities?’ and also participated in a closing panel of the event on ‘Protecting Diversity. Extending the Scope of Minority Rights and Policies to Migrants – A Feasible and Beneficial Project?’. “There has been this split: people either work on historic minorities or migration. There was a need to bring these two together and to think about how they interact and relate with each other,” noted Prof. Kymlicka about the conference.

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