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Human Visas: Introduction.
Over the last 30 to 40 years, the composition of Europe ’s population has changed dramatically. Northern and western Europe, in particular, have been the destination of many non-Western immigrants in search of work. Today, the countries with the largest immigrant populations in Europe are England , France , and Germany .
There is no doubt that this influx of foreign workers has contributed greatly to many countries’ economic development, especially in the 1950s and 60s, when the need for unskilled labor in European industry was considerable. These immigrants have also culturally enriched the continent in ways not easily measured.
Yet there is a negative side to this history. The most vital democratic values are religious liberty, freedom of expression, and equality between individuals regardless of sex, ethnicity, social status, or religious affiliation. It is also crucial that people respect human rights and obey the law. Many non-Western immigrants come from societies in which these values are largely absent. These are also societies where the status of women and girls is very low, where feudal social structures continue to exert an iron grip on the populace, and where an individual’s human worth is entirely dependent on religion, clan, caste, and and class. Legal protections, especially for women, are especially fragile. Most new Europeans, alas, have brought these patriarchal structures, values, and traditions with them.
Only in recent years have these reprehensible aspects of immigration and integration been placed on the public agenda – and in a degree that varies, of course, from country to country. It would appear to be in Denmark , and to a lesser extent in Norway , that the most candid public discussion of the deplorable conditions within the non-Western immigrant communities has taken place, but in countries such as England , France , and Germany we may also be seeing the first traces of an open and honest debate. That it has taken longer in these nations for immigration issues to be publicly acknowledged and deliberated can, perhaps, be explained historically. England and France were major colonial powers; Germany gave the world the scourge of Nazism. In all three countries, an acute sense of historical guilt seems to have led to a reluctance to address problems involving non-Western immigrants. Scandinavia , by contrast, has no comparable history, and hence cultural sensitivity is not quite as strong a factor there as it is in England , France , and Germany , where key democratic principles and values have been set aside out of a misguided sense of "understanding and respect for culture." This state of affairs has been particularly damaging to the most vulnerable members of the immigrant communities – namely, children, young people, and women.
Generally speaking, the debate on immigration and integration has been, and in large part still is, highly polarized: either one is against immigration or one is for it. Either one is hostile toward persons who come from outside the Western world, or one describes oneself as an "anti-racist" and hence a "humanist." Few themes, if any, arouse such strong emotional reactions among those involved.
We don’t belong to either of these camps. Our view may well be characterized as "the third voice." For us, human rights and responsibilities are front and centre, and our special focus is on the vulnerable persons – those non-Western children, young people, and women – who are deprived of their rights and responsibilities. We recognize that the modern history of immigration in Europe has involved the importation of undesirable practices that simply cannot be reconciled with democratic values. The immigration policy that has generally been followed by the modern governments of Europe might, in our view, be fairly described as male-oriented, for – taken to its logical conclusion – it amounts to this: "Get the father a job, and integration will happen of its own accord over time." Recognizing, however, that the immigrant communities are full of women who have lived in Europe for twenty years but who cannot speak the language of the countries they live in because they are essentially confined to their homes and neighborhoods, we have formulated a different motto: "Integrate the mother, and two-thirds of the job is done, because the mother integrates the children."
Where does Europe stand today, as far as major integration challenges are concerned? Can the nations of Europe learn anything from one another about what makes a successful integration policy? This is the question with which we began our journey; this book is the result. We have concentrated on four main themes: family reunification through marriage, forced marriage, women who are denied divorces, and genital mutilation of girls.
Family reunification. In this book we present unique statistical data that pull back the curtain on marriage patterns among non-Western immigrant groups. The statistics leave little doubt that the current policy of family reunification is leading to the destruction of individual rights and protections, and that it is also inimical to efforts at integration. Never before has such extensive statistical material regarding immigrant groups been presented in Scandinavia or, for that matter, anywhere else in Europe.
We have also met many of the individuals behind the statistics, some of whose stories we tell here. One of them is a young woman whom we have called Mina. Her family tree, included here, illustrates the ubiquity in certain immigrant communities of what we have called "fetching marriages," in which the children or grandchildren of immigrants are married off to persons in their ancestral homeland – often, indeed, cousins in their ancestral villages – who thereby secure the right to live in Europe . These young Norwegians, in other words, are being used as living visas. The human costs for them, the pawns in a very destructive game, are immense. Yet the policy of most European countries continues to permit this modern form of human commerce.
Forced marriage. Forced marriage has become one of the most widely discussed forms of assault in Europe today. But do those who are personally unaffected by this practice comprehend how grim a reality it is, and how many different kinds of crime the typical forced marriage involves? Do politicians get it? Do social workers and health professionals get it? We don’t think so. For there seems to be little recognition in such circles that the force – and the violation of individual rights – doesn’t end with the wedding. On the contrary, the wedding is only the beginning. Virtually all forced marriages involve rape – and rarely "just" one rape, but a pattern of sexual assault that continues throughout the marriage. Current legislation simply does not reflect an understanding of this sobering reality.
Divorce. A steadily rising number of women in Europe are trapped in marriages by contracts that provide them with very little right to divorce. This is especially true of women with family backgrounds in Muslim countries. Such women are forced to subject themselves to laws that took shape on the Arabian peninsula nearly 1400 years ago. Our point of entry into this problem is through one of our closest colleagues, a young Norwegian-born woman whose ethnic background is Pakistani and who at 18 was coerced by her family into marrying a total stranger in Pakistani Punjab, who then accompanied her back to Norway . Examining her thoroughly typical Muslim marriage contract – under which the husband can dissolve the marriage with ease, while the wife’s right to divorce is exceedingly limited – we were led to the question: how can authorities in Norway, a country dedicated to the equal rights of women, accept, as a basis for securing Norwegian residency, foreign marriage contracts that discriminate blatantly against women? We formulated a proposal for changes in the requirements for family reunification through marriage, and even before this book appeared the Norwegian Parliament had agreed across party lines to enact it into law. Soon, accordingly, reunification in Norway between newly married couples will not be possible unless the wife’s right to divorce is included in her marriage contract. Norway is the first country in Europe – and in the world – to introduce this rule.
Female genital mutilation. In the year 2000, it was documented that girls in Norway were being subjected to genital mutilation, a practice that originated several thousand years ago under distant skies. This news, which was reported on Norway ’s TV2, made a strong impression on the nation; politicians demanded immediate action. All indications, however, suggest that the initiatives that have been introduced – which involve nothing more than inter-group dialogue, educational measures, and the dissemination of information – will not put an end to this deeply rooted practice. In order to explore possible solutions, we traveled to France , where a pioneering project in a single department (i.e., county) has yielded sensationally positive results. What can Europe learn from the French experience?
In addressing all of these social problems, our basic philosophy and working method has been to document them, analyze them, and come up with concrete proposals to resolve them. One proposal rarely solves an entire problem – measures must be coordinated with one another in order to optimally close loopholes and (if possible) avoid any negative consequences. For each major issue we have taken on, therefore, we have come up with several suggestions for changes in laws, regulations, and guidelines, as well as recommendations for the dissemination of information to the relevant population groups.
We hope that this book will be useful for politicians across Europe at both the national and the local level. We hope that professionals such as school personnel, health-care providers, social workers, and police will also be able to make use of the information contained herein. And we hope, finally, that the book will be illuminating as well for all who are concerned about integration and who want the countries of Europe to become well-functioning, multi-ethnic societies in which both "new" and "old" Europeans can live together in harmony, prosperity, and freedom.
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