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Norwegian views on integration and assimilation

One of our main tasks in Oslo was to conduct interviews, learn about immigration, migrants, and some of the challenges they face. We contacted two informants who could help us glean valuable insight into the inner workings of immigration in Norway. We asked the informants interview questions related to our overarching research question: How does discrimination affect Norwegians and immigrants in Norway? We conducted an interview with a PhD student and an employee at the Antiracism Center in Oslo.

The two interviews had a common theme: the assimilation versus integration of immigrants. Our first informant was a Doctoral candidate at the University of Oslo. She described integration as “…mainly finding a job and finding housing and becoming a part of society”, whereas assimilation requires that “… you should be culturally similar, you should adopt the same values and the same thinking [as the culture or area you are in]”.

She then went on to say that typically in regards to integration, the government uses the word ‘integration’ but very often with [the meaning of] ‘assimilation.’ This conveys the idea that some people want immigrants to assimilate, but they use the more neutral term integrate. As our informant stated, “That, I think, doesn’t get enough attention, I think that is a bit unfortunate.” She is drawing attention to how assimilation can poorly affect immigrants. Sometimes part of assimilation is giving up their culture, and that may be one of the only things they have left from their home country.  She believes that many people think of the terms assimilation and integration as interchangeable. Integration is a two way process where migrants are working to be a part of society, but the host country is also continuously working to meet the needs of these new migrants. One might argue that integration is truly needed to make a city diverse and accepting, however many people might be uncomfortable with the idea of people with vast differences living so close and possibly influencing their way of life.

We then interviewed our second informant who works at an anti-racism center in the heart of Oslo. We received very similar feedback on the way that the government uses the terms integration and assimilation. He stated that “the Progress Party, which is in the government right now . . .  when they talk about integration usually what they mean is assimilation.” The Progress Party can be identified as conservative-liberal, at least by European standards, and the current Prime Minister, Erna Solberg, is a member of this party. In general, the Progress Party has much stricter immigration policies than the other political parties in Norway. We asked the two informants similar questions and received similar answers. We were then able to triangulate that the current Norwegian government has a problem acknowledging what they truly want immigrants to do upon moving to Norway, and how they want them to interact with their society.

Interestingly, he noted that “…there are not so many challenges with integration actually, a lot of things work. People say that integration in Norway goes quite well, but you wouldn’t know it by what is put in the media. The media focuses on conflict, but the problem is when the only thing that you see is conflict a lot of people think this is all going south very fast, but it isn’t.” This statement can serve as evidence that integration is happening throughout Norway without government influence. Would assimilation work any better?