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Integrating migrants in Wales

April 28th 2020

News stories about people who have migrated to Wales are so often from the viewpoint of others – not migrants themselves. Claire Thomas examines what it is like for migrants living in Wales, and how integrated they feel.

For the past 18 months the Bevan Foundation has been working on a project looking at migration and integration in Wales. As part of that work we spoke with 48 migrants about their experiences of living in Wales. Almost all of those we spoke to like living in Wales. Many are settled  and regard it as ‘home’. Yet in our discussions we found a number of barriers that hinder integration.

Discrimination and access to information

Knowledge about rights and the ability to access entitlements is fundamental to integration, but due to a lack of knowledge, some migrants experience difficulties accessing them. Without the right knowledge many do not have the confidence or ability to challenge instances of rights being denied. The consequences are wide ranging and some migrants told us they just put up with this and have little recourse to action as they do not know who to report it to.

Many feel positive about the communities they live in and say people they meet are welcoming and friendly, but some have experienced or witnessed racist abuse. Some just accept this type of behaviour, normalising it as part of their lives as a migrant living in Wales and no one we spoke to actively reported it to anyone.

I was at a store and was with my aunt who is disabled and hard of hearing, another customer asked my aunt to move and she didn’t hear her and they heard us speaking Polish and they said something derogatory about Polish people … This was a needle in my heart. I wasn’t brave enough to say something. Just generalising the whole nationality is stupid
Hanna from Poland, came to Wales in 2005 and lives in Swansea

Moving from casual interactions to social connections

Wales is seen as a friendly place, where most people encounter ‘smiles’ and ‘hello’ from neighbours and people they meet on the street or in their neighbourhood. Many though have yet to experience more meaningful social contact and don’t socially interact with anyone outside their family, ethnic or language group. Some develop friendships and deeper bonds via support groups (which are vital) but this is often targeted at particular groups of migrants such as asylum seekers and refugees, so making friends outside of these groups can be difficult.

Language and integration

Migrants agree that learning the language of the host community is a crucial part of integration. Nearly all those we spoke to said this was the key to integrating but accessing the language support can be challenging. Some are faced with long language course waiting list, while others have work and family commitments which prevent them attending classes. Some would prefer more relaxed environments to enable them to practice their skills and socialise at the same time.

Conversely, some migrants we met don’t have the skills or feel the need to learn the language. This  often this puts them at a disadvantage when accessing their entitlements, healthcare and other important services because they have to use informal or poorly skilled interpreters.

Our recommendations

In our recently published report; ‘Shared ground; integrating migrants in Wales’, we have made a number of recommendations which can help migrants integrate in the future, which is essential if we all want to live in truly cohesive communities.  You can also watch our webinar here.

Claire Thomas is Policy & Research Officer at the Bevan Foundation. The project was kindly funded by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation.

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