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Doug Saunders on migration

Doug Saunders writes the Globe and Mail’s international-affairs column, and also serves as the paper’s online opinion and debate editor. He has been a writer with the Globe since 1995, and has extensive experience as a foreign correspondent, having run the Globe’s foreign bureaus in Los Angeles and London. He has won the National Newspaper Award, the Canadian counterpart to the Pulitzer Prize, on four occasions, including an unprecedented three consecutive awards for critical writing in 1998-2000, and an award honouring Reckoning as Canada’s best column in 2006. He has published two books. His first, Arrival City (2010) chronicled the unprecedented wave of rural-to-urban migration and the rise of urban immigrant enclaves, using firsthand reporting on five continents. His second, The Myth of the Muslim Tide (2012), examined the effects of immigration from Islamic countries to the West and has been published to acclaim in Canada, the United States and Germany.

Doug Saunders, Journalist (Globe and Mail),
interviewed by Clifford Armion,
20th November 2013, Collège Hotel, Lyon


Clifford Armion: In your books you worked on migrations, both from rural to urban areas and on international migrations, especially towards the larger cities. Is there a common pattern that motivates migration to larger cities?

Doug Saunders: Migration almost always follows the same pattern. It doesn’t go from one country to another country. It goes from a cluster of villages or a sub-rural region to specific urban neighbourhoods. Those urban neighbourhoods which are usually low-income, with low housing cost, serve as the bottom rung of the ladder for people arriving in a new country. Usually it’s one or two people from the village and they’ll live many people to a room and bring over other people, at first to provide some extra income for the rural village and then eventually whole families will come over. If it works well they start small businesses there, perhaps they purchase property: they use this urban neighbourhood as the platform for success. This is true whether you’re in the slums of Mumbai which are linked to villages in Maharashtra in central India, or if you are in one of the cities of the Pearl River delta in China which draw from specific clusters of villages in the centre of China, or if you’re in Southern Los Angeles whose streets are linked to specific clusters of villages in Guatemala, Salvador and Honduras, or say in Western and Northern London where groups of houses are linked to villages in Silesia, in South-West Poland.

C.A.: So you’re talking about neighbourhoods or areas within the cities rather than cities themselves?

D.G.: That’s right. I call these clusters of population coming from villages arrival cities. These arrival cities are specific economies within cities that have their own internal logic linking back to a village somewhere and forward toward the established economy of the city. So the arrival city exists within a larger city as a smaller network of connections to provide people opportunities to make their start.

C.A.: Would you say that migration still changes or shapes cities today?

D.S.: Very much so. Even in countries that believe they are not countries of immigration, cities are mainly patchworks of centres of migration from somewhere else. That’s how cities grow, it’s how they change. There are cities in Western Europe and North America that are almost entirely a patchwork of arrival city districts and others where this forms an important part. Rather than changing cities, you could say this migration process is the essence of cities, almost everywhere.

C.A.: You were talking about London earlier. Would you say that London is an example of a successful way of dealing with migration and integrating migrant communities?

D.S.: It offers both examples of success and a failure. When I first lived in London in the mid 1980’s, there were immigrant districts in East London, Whitechapel, Spitalfields, Brick Lane, where you didn’t dare go at night. They were dangerous places with criminal gangs, intergenerational poverty, violence, extremism, disease. They were really troubled spots; they seemed to be the chief European example of failed immigration at the time, people spoke about them that way. Twenty-five years later when I lived there again, the same neighbourhoods were still somewhat poor immigrant neighbourhoods, still populated by the same Bangladeshi and Pakistani families who lived there before, but it had become a success. Everyone went for lunch to eat in their restaurants there. People’s incomes had become reasonable, they had become small business successes, their children were in university, they had gone into the arts and business and one had become the chairwoman of the conservative party… As of the last five years or so, the school exam results of the children of these immigrants were higher than those of white English people. Because of a number of factors which I analysed, it changed from being a downward spiral of immigration failure to an upward spiral of social mobility and immigration success based entirely of how this neighbourhood functions.

C.A.: In France most of our mainstream politicians believe that you can’t really have an immigration policy without some form of assimilation. Do you think it is a proper solution to deal with migration? After all it is a form of violence towards the migrants who are in a way denied the right to keep their own culture and their own language.

D.S.: Assimilation is a word that doesn’t get used very much anymore because it implies somebody becoming exactly the same as somebody else. Even in the most perfect cases, people keep their religion, they keep some of the food from the country they came from, maybe even allegiance to football teams and that sort of things after several generations. Integration is a more useful word because it means being able to keep those aspects of culture that are matters of personal choice while embracing the core values of the society around you: the values of the secular state, the values of equality of people, of the rule of law – what we call the values of modernity – and being able to communicate and participate in the educational and economic activities of the country around you. What I found from my work on integration is that it’s a very complicated question. Different scholars and different government officials define integration differently. Some would say it’s a matter of adopting a culture first or adopting the language first. What I found is that if the locally born children of immigrants are able to integrate fully into the education system and the employment system, that is if they are able to get as much education as the native born population, and if they are able to get as much of a place in the workforce as the native-born population, then the cultural and linguistic aspects of integration take care of themselves. If you have the children getting full education and full employment then they will be able to speak the language fully and fluently and they will be considered by the larger population to be culturally integrated. Whatever their cultural differences are, they won’t be seen as a threat but as a little bit of extra decoration. Italians in the 1950’s and 1960’s were seen in France and Switzerland and Germany as being dangerous immigrants because they had a culture which was considered incompatible. There were policies in most Northern European countries to prevent Italians from settling because of the danger of cultural contamination. There was a real fear. In Canada and the United States there was a fear of Italians because their Roman Catholic faith was considered a political threat. Now two generations later we have larger Italian populations with their offspring in our countries, they’re still Roman Catholics, they still have some cultural patterns, maybe even the grandchildren support the football teams of their grandparents, but they’re not considered as a threat by anybody; we just can all name more that one type of pasta and English speaking people can drink espresso and cappuccino and things like this. That’s a typical pattern of how integration works: first comes the economic stuff and the cultural stuff falls into place.

C.A.: So there’s nothing new with more recent waves of immigration? For example you wrote a book about Muslim integration entitled The Myth of the Muslim Tide: Do Immigrants Threaten the West?

D.S.: Whenever there’s a wave of immigrants who are poor and come from a religious minority, whether it’s Eastern European Jews or Southern European Catholics or Muslims from the Maghreb and Turkey and the Indian subcontinent, when they are new they will be seen as being a threat. People will believe that their difficulties with economic adjustment in the early years are somehow caused by their religion. We can prove that this is not the case. You can find immigrants that come from the same place in Turkey or Morocco, from the same very poor village, who go to London, New York, Paris and Berlin, and who have completely different outcomes in these different cities. In some places they will be seen as being successful middle-class people who are part of the community twenty years later, in some places they’ll be seen as a parallel society who are a threat to democracy twenty years later. It can be shown that these differences are not because of the originating culture or religion – otherwise they would have the same outcome everywhere – but because of the circumstances of where they arrive. That is an important thing to realise. For Muslim immigrants during the last twenty years, there has been a difficulty that their arrival has coincided with waves of political violence emanating from the countries they come from and from some of their diasporas. The Italians in North America had the same problems in the twentieth century. They were associated with fascism and with organised crime. It’s worth learning from these parallels. Patterns of integration for immigrants from Muslim majority countries are by almost any measure more rapid than previous immigration waves. In France which has the largest population of Muslims, many of whom were immigrants who arrived as French citizens because of the colonial history, you see rates of measurable integration in terms of social attitudes toward homosexuality, premarital sex and things like this which are shockingly fast. They’re coming from countries where support for these ideas is one or two percent and you’re getting levels of support for these ideas of forty or fifty percent now, only sixty years on. In terms of economic integration though, things are going more slowly. A lot of people came over because it was an industrial economy, and the industrial economy has changed into a service economy. Sometimes the children of immigrants have a harder time with it. Sometimes the school system makes it difficult for the children of immigrants to succeed. People see these second generation difficulties caused by the economy and a rigid education system and the deprived neighbourhoods they live in, and they mistake that for the natural culture of people.

C.A.: What about the colonial history of England? Does it make the integration of some Muslim communities easier? For example the Pakistani?

D.S.: The Pakistanis in England, by most measure, are less integrated than people from the Maghreb in France. They are less integrated than Turks in Germany are. They are less integrated in terms of cultural integration even though the Pakistanis in England arrive speaking the same language. It helps show that linguistic fluency actually is not a starting point. If you force people to know the language, I don’t think it helps a lot at all because some populations who arrive speaking the language have a harder time becoming integrated. In the case of the Pakistanis in England it is because their largest groups have moved to Northern England where the industrial economy collapsed and there aren’t as many economic opportunities. Bangladeshis in England have been a huge immigration success story in terms on educational results, employment and so on. The two cultures are not very different, so it has to do with the circumstances of arrival. People emigrate to places where there is a colonial history. It’s not as if there were countries ready to burst their shores and have people wash up in the next country. Spain is right next to the Arab world, just across a small body of water, yet only fifteen percent of its immigrants are North African or Muslim. Almost all of them come from Central America or Albania, places where there is linguistic harmony with the Spanish language. That tends to be the pattern: people go to places where there is some cultural connection or some historic connection.

Pour citer ces ressources :

Doug Saunders/Clifford Armion. 12/2013. "Doug Saunders on migration".
La Clé des Langues (Lyon: ENS LYON/DGESCO). ISSN 2107-7029. Mis à jour le 8 septembre 2016.
Consulté le 25 novembre 2017.
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Mise à jour le 8 septembre 2016
Créé le 5 décembre 2013
ISSN 2107-7029
DGESCO Clé des Langues