Integration Minister Sebastian Kurz hosted an integration symposium in the Vienna Hofburg. Discussions focused on the importance of communicating values in refugee integration.
On 15 June, the Integration Ministry organised a scientific symposium under the heading of “Shifting Values? – Integration of Refugees in Austria”. In two panels, experts from Austria and Germany discussed the purpose of values in refugee integration and how to communicate such values in practical terms. Panellists included the German-Turkish journalist Hatice Akyün, University Professor DDr. Christian Stadler and the chairman of the Expert Council for Integration University Professor Dr. Heinz Faßmann. The symposium was organised against the background of ongoing migration movements towards Europe and the associated challenges with respect to refugee integration. Last year, a total of 90,000 applications for asylum were filed in Austria. In 2015, around three quarters of asylum applicants came from Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq – regions with socio-cultural norms and value systems that are in many respects quite different from those in Austria.
At the beginning of the symposium, University Professor Dr. Heinz Faßmann explained: “The massive influx of refugees has triggered a discussion on values in Austria. We thus asked ourselves, what constitutes the basis of social coexistence in Austria. Democracy, equal rights and the rule of law are the foundations on which social existence is based and these are the fundamental values we need to communicate to people who come from other societies”. During the panel discussion, the German journalist Hatice Akyün stressed that it is not possible to separate social values from fundamental rights: “Fundamental rights, such as equality of men and women, are values which have to be put into practice in a self-confident manner by society, then these values will also be accepted by those people who come as refugees and immigrants to our countries. Many adult migrants, who come to another country, change their attitudes in the course of their life. When arriving in a new country they revisit their current attitudes and views and develop new ones. This is a major and remarkable integration effort and achievement. Children find it easier as they can familiarise themselves with these values already at an early age and grow up with these values.”
Standard practice in Austria: Nationwide Values and Orientation Courses
Values and Orientation Courses organised across Austria assist persons entitled to asylum or subsidiary protection in familiarising themselves with the fundamental principles governing coexistence in Austria. Minister for Integration Sebastian Kurz stresses: “Integration is a cross-cutting theme that concerns the federal government, the federal provinces and the municipalities alike. The successful long-term integration of refugees into our society faces us with major challenges. Alongside acquiring German language skills and quickly joining the Austrian labour market, it is important for persons entitled to asylum to learn about and subscribe to European values and to the fundamental principles governing coexistence in Austria. The principles shared in the context of these mandatory courses include inter alia equality of men and women, religious freedom and compulsory schooling for all children. It is necessary that we clearly communicate and share these fundamental European values and attitudes with refugees. And this is precisely what we do by organising Values and Orientation Courses. By having conducted these courses over the last six months we are creating the foundation for successful integration.”
Together with the Ministry for Integration, the members of the Expert Council for Integration developed the “50 Action Points – A Plan for the Integration of Persons entitled to Asylum and Subsidiary Protection” as early as autumn 2015. Key elements shared during the Values and Orientation Courses include fundamental principles of the Austrian constitution, such as equality of men and women, human dignity and democratic principles. Participants are also informed about important prerequisites for living in Austria including the importance of German language skills, education and training as well as knowledge about everyday life in Austria necessary for successful integration. The courses are held in small groups and attended by men and women. The Values Courses are being implemented across Austria by the Austrian Integration Fund (Österreichischer Integrationsfonds).
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