IOM World Migration Report 2020: Lack of understanding of multiculturalism

Someone brought the IOM’s simplistic, almost caricaturistic, portrayal of multiculturalism to my attention as seen in this table and description of models of inclusion (or civic integration).

Likely reflects European bias and fails to recognize, as Kymlicka and Banting have noted, that EU political anti-multiculturalism discourse is distinct from much of the on-the-ground programs that are similar to Canadian multiculturalism.

And Canadian multiculturalism, from its inception, has always been about integration, with the focus of accommodation being to increase participation of minorities and their sense of belonging to Canada.

Wonder whether the Canadian representatives to the IOM noted this mischaracterization?

Assimilation considers diversity as a risk for social cohesion and requires the highest degree of adaptation by migrants and a low degree of accommodation by the receiving society. It consists of a one-way policy where migrants must fully embrace the receiving society’s national identity and values, to the detriment of their original ones. By contrast, multiculturalism values diversity and expects a low degree of adaptation by migrants – who can retain their cultural identities – and a high degree of accommodation by the receiving society.

While assimilation has been referred to as a “melting pot”, multiculturalism has often been associated with a “salad bowl”: a melting pot contains ingredients that melt together and become indistinguishable, whereas a salad bowl is made of diverse ingredients which co-exist side by side harmoniously. While assimilation was already the rule in Latin American countries, such as Argentina, during the mass migration of Europeans in the nineteenth century and beginning of the twentieth century,26 these two models were particularly prevalent in traditional immigration countries during the twentieth century. In broad terms, the focus was placed on assimilation from the 1920s to the 1960s, and shifted to multiculturalism in the 1970s due to the inability of the assimilationist model to accommodate increasingly diverse societies. Although it is still followed by some States, including Canada,some have disavowed multiculturalism since the mid-1990s because it has been considered unable to counter migrants’ exclusion and perceived as a threat to national identity and values.

As a result, different models have been embraced to restore a balance between diversity and unity, claimed by some to have been lost because of multiculturalism. At the national level, the model predominantly relied on today is that of integration, which stands in between assimilation and multiculturalism. It expects medium degrees of adaptation by migrants and accommodation by the receiving society. Although no commonly agreed definition exists, it is generally accepted to be a two-way process of mutual adaptation between migrants and the societies in which they live. At the local level, an interculturalist approach to inclusion has developed, which emphasizes the importance of contacts and bonds between individuals of different backgrounds, both migrants and nationals. It relies on the idea that diversity is an advantage and aims to create mutual understanding and a culture of diversity to combat discrimination and inequalities. This policy narrative finds its origins in Quebec in the 1980s in response to the Canadian multicultural policy, and has since been taken up in an increasing number of cities and neighbourhoods, in countries such as Spain or Italy.


About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: