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Integration is a two-way street and everyone has a part to play – KMKY Policy Conference

Flora Chik

At the final conference of Wonder Foundation’s Knowing Me, Knowing You series on social integration, policy experts, academics, young immigrants and engaged youth from all walks of life gathered in London to share ideas on migrant integration.

The conference, on the theme of sharing positive values, focused on the ability of young people to effect change, whether that entails getting involved with policymaking, promoting educational initiatives, or simply extending a smile to new members of their community. Integration was emphasized as a two-way street, requiring everyone to play a role in engaging others. As such, the conference kicked off with an event reminding the participants how much we all have in common:

  • Do you live in the same place where your parents were born?
  • Do you speak more than one language?
  • Do you speak the same first language as your grandparents?
  • Have you ever lived within ten miles of your grandparents?
  • Have you had a conversation with a stranger on the Tube?

As participants shared their answers to these questions, it became clear that while there was much diversity in everyone’s personal history, it was matched (if not exceeded!) by the extent to which we all had shared experiences.  

Following this exercise, three teams of youth presented the very well-thought-out policy proposals they had been developing over the preceding months. Each proposal presented innovative amendments to existing programs: Sure Start Centres, the National Citizenship Service, and the Erasmus student exchange programme. Though all these programmes were recognized as having great potential for building community and forming relationships, the presenters identified existing concerns with them, like inaccessibility or restrictiveness, and offered improvements that would be both cost-effective and marketable. A panel of policy experts – Sagal Bafoe, Craig Barnes, Richard Bell, Jamiesha Majevadia, Nora Ratzmann, Dr. Jennifer Sheehy-Skeffington, and Hugh Simpson – provided thoughtful feedback, oftentimes sharing valuable insight from their own experiences with policymaking and letting the audience know how this had informed their thoughts and opinions on the subjects discussed.

We were also able to step into the shoes of a migrant, imagining the risks, sacrifices, and potential payoffs involved in making a move from a foreign country to the United Kingdom to pursue higher education. Participants reflected on their own priorities and values, questioning whether they would migrate if it meant being away from ageing parents or not having their educational qualifications recognised.

Many contributors to the discussion brought up concerns about information asymmetries, pointing out that social media narratives and Britain’s international reputation may inform the decisions of many potential migrants, for better or for worse. Running through the discussion was the theme of identity and what it means to belong. How does an accent distinguish you from others? How might it feel when you view yourself as a Londoner but others don’t?

Throughout the conference, youth participants took the time to share on camera what they would personally do to make refugees and migrants feel more welcome.

The creativity and openness of the participants were on full display as they shared their ideas, which ranged from pledging to invite others to diverse events to taking pride in one’s own immigrant status. Students brainstormed ways they could make a difference in their schools and universities, while others thought about how they could get involved politically. By the end of the day, it was clear that when it comes to sharing positive values, we all have a part to play.