By Abby Dwommoh | International Organization for Migration
OPINION- Migration is not a new phenomenon. It is actually as old as time, but to hear it discussed today, this is an easy fact to forget. Migration has touched every society throughout history but only recently has the international community recognized a common need for a unified approach to this global issue.
When well-managed, the social and economic contributions of migration can be significant, but too frequently we have witnessed knee-jerk approaches that are reactionary. Today’s news cycles are often led with a migration-related story, but regularly overlook the important process of how a person or family becomes a part of the new community. Integration has been historically neglected, but is vital to fully realize the huge potential benefits migration can bring to their new communities.
Integration is about two-way interactions where both migrants (including refugees) and communities build a common space to learn about each other’s experiences, traditions, and expectations. One of the most successful ways to do this is through shared interests. When people can come together through an activity that they both enjoy, there is a stronger likelihood for mutual understanding and bonding.
Music, art and sports are particularly strong unifying forces because they cross national, cultural and socio-economic lines. They are a part of every culture in every country on every continent. These shared interests can lay the foundation for people to appreciate the similarities and differences in one another.
“Music can be a type of therapy. When I hear certain songs – I feel it in my soul. Songs about life, about struggle. I can identify,” said Kolbassia Haoussou, 42, a torture survivor who has been living in the UK since 2005 where he was granted asylum.
On July 1, Haoussou will be performing at the Singing Our Lives concert in London as part of a five month project to foster understanding and to celebrate the strength and resilience of refugees and migrants. The project brought together over 200 migrants, refugees and British choir members to use music to explore themes of justice, changing seasons, and the adjustment process. For some, this was their first interaction with someone from this background and was an opportunity to share personal stories.
Debby Konigsberg is one of the British choir members who has also participated in the project.
“Our communities singing together in harmony seems particularly poignant today, when we’re regularly reminded of intolerance and suffering each time we listen to the news. By contrast, at its heart, the Singing Our Lives project has been such a celebration of humanity at its best, unity and oneness. It’s been a kaleidoscopic emotional experience with tears interwoven with fun, laughter and warmth,” said Konigsberg.
Projects like Singing Our Lives bring people together and actively include people with diverse backgrounds on activities that everyone can enjoy. Each person maintains his sense of self, but with a little more understanding of the other.
Haoussou explained how integration activities made a difference in his life “It can be difficult to feel part of a community, as if we are on the outside looking in. We don’t want to be defined by our struggle, but to have people understand and think “they are normal people like us”. When people can see similarities to their own lives, that is how we integrate better and that is how life is easier for all of us.”
Making these reciprocal interactions more frequent and more commonplace is at the heart of integration. That is how art, sports or music projects like Singing Our Lives can have a lasting positive impact on the community and society.