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Austria: Europa 2006 – Integration of minorities

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Immigration and the integration of immigrant minorities are at the focus of political discussion in Europe. Migration is a challenge to the institutions and culture of the liberal western world, involving not only the cultural differences that the migrants contribute to political society but also largely the willingness and ability of the majority population to tolerate such differences.

For the political institutions of the European Union, the integration of migrants aims at giving best possible voice to an increasing plurality of interests and ways of life and a growing ethnic, cultural and religious variety. The rapid increase in migrant pressure from eastern Europe after the fall of the Iron Curtain and the eastern expansion of the EU is obliging the countries of Europe to adopt a common migration and integration policy.

The social integration of young people is not something that happens automatically. Pluralist societies that offer a wide variety of possible lifestyles make high demands of the way the individual finds his or her identity. It is precisely young people with experience of migration who find social integration difficult, as they find their way between the family traditions and so-called western lifestyles. They are more affected by exclusion and are the first to feel the social rupture lines that include inherited poverty and the risk of poverty, gender, migration or a political system of hostility to participation.

Specific examples can be found in the school system, where the inadequate encouragement of education, in particular in the field of language, diminishes the opportunities even further. In the world of work, legal requirements such as work permits or nationality, as well as a lack of apprenticeships and jobs lead to unemployment or displacement into badly paid and often illegal work.

Where one hundred years ago the struggle was against the economic exploitation of children and young people, it is the problem of youth unemployment that weighs heavily on our society today. Work as the means of earning a living has declined considerably as one of the central and familiar forces for integration. "I hate work because I can't get any!" is a cry of despair against the structural barriers such as the qualifications needed to enter the world of work that exclude above all young people with a migrant background. This even applies to second-generation children (children born in Austria of foreign parents). Around 300,000 children in Austria are either of foreign nationality or have only recently been naturalised. And this figure will increase even more over the next few years.

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