|06OSLO1486||2006-12-08 14:18:00||UNCLASSIFIED||Embassy Oslo|
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UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 OSLO 001486
1. (U) SUMMARY: On 6 December, the Ambassador hosted a dinner
which brought together leading government officials,
parliamentarians, and immigrant community leaders to debate
Norway's integration practices and to discuss the American
experience and what role the embassy can play in the
Norwegian situation. Participants debated the root causes of
integration failure in Norway and the issues facing this
country. The general perception of the American experience
was positive, and was used as model, especially by the
immigrant community leaders. The only Muslim parliamentarian
in Norway, Saera T. Khan, lauded the event at the end of
dinner, saying that it was the 'first time that any
ambassador had invited her to actually discuss politics', a
troubling reflection of the approach to these issues and to
minority leaders. The dinner also underscored the lack of
public debate on this issue. END SUMMARY.
THE BEST AND THE BRIGHTEST...AND INTERESTED
2. (U) The guest list included two parliamentarians from the
governing coalition, community leaders from a wide variety of
backgrounds including Iranian, Pakistani, Moroccan, Indian
and Vietnamese, several University of Oslo experts including
former Harvard professor Unni Wikan as well as participants
from the public sector. These latter included the Gender and
Equality Ombudsman Beate Gangaas, the Director of the
Organization Against Public Discrimination Akheraton de Leon,
the General Director of the Department of Integration and
Diversity at the Ministry of Labor Barbro Bakken, and Lisa
Cooper, an American immigrant who now heads the Directorate
of Integration and Diversity.
THE UNDERLYING PROBLEMS
3. (SBU) Norway's "non-Norwegian"/immigrant population is
large; constituting 25 percent of Oslo's population and 8
percent of the nation. See Reftel A for further details.
Although there are success stories, including several of our
guests at dinner, they are drowned out by statistics showing
higher unemployment, lower education levels, and greater
criminality among the immigrant population. When posed the
question of "what concerns you about Norway?", three main
areas were noted.
- First, immigrants do not have access to the job market.
Certainly at the management level, but also at the entry
level for blue-collar workers, getting a job is considered to
be especially difficult if one is dark-skinned or has a
foreign name. Asylum seekers are also kept outside of the
job market while their cases are pending, which leaves them
feeling shunned or as though they are non-participants in
social questions and the future of the nation. One
participant at dinner mentioned immigrants going to three
lengthy and consecutive rounds of job training, without ever
receiving a job offer.
- Second, there are various degrees of commitment to Norway
among the immigrant communities. Some guest workers are here
for short-term gain. Other asylum seekers are unsure if this
country is really where they want to settle. Their impact
shapes ethnic Norwegians expectations for all immigrants:
they cannot naturally make the connection that 'foreigners'
may indeed be their proud fellow Norwegians.
- Third, despite constant debate in the media about ancillary
issues arising from immigration, there has not been a broad
and honest debate about what the desired outcome of
integration in twenty years actually is. What do people want
in the 'new Norway'? In the meantime, the walls between
people of different background in the country continue to
COMPARISONS TO THE U.S.
4. (U) The U.S. experience was a point of reference for all
of the participants. One unavoidable difference as noted by
Bakken is that the U.S. may offer a chance for immigrants to
fulfill their dreams, but the risk if one fails is great,
whereas in Norway, social mobility is much more limited, but
the risk of a fall is minimal because of the strong safety
net. With this difference in mind, participants were
especially positive about work opportunities available for
immigrants to the U.S., even illegal immigrants. They also
noted ruefully that having English as the national language
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is much more of a motivation for immigrants than trying to
encourage new citizens to study and speak Norwegian. Where
Norway does approach the U.S. is in having a 'critical mass'
of immigrant or non-ethnic Norwegians that, by their very
size, force people to take notice and deal with them as a
economic and political force. This is a change from twenty
years ago, when immigrant groups could be conveniently kept
separate and tapped for labor without having to actually be
included in daily life.
5. (U) Immigrant community leaders tend to be a bit
starry-eyed when mentioning the model of the U.S. for
integration. As noted in Reftel B at our initial dinner on
this subject, there is a focus on the positive aspects of
U.S. society without much reflection on the challenges that
we still face. Nevertheless, the participants who had been
to the U.S. noted that the reality was still tremendously
positive and that the tension that they sometimes feel in
Norway is absent in America.
WHAT CAN WE DO TO HELP?
6. (U) Surprisingly, it was considered a boon just to have a
forum for the Norwegians to share their views and concerns.
Although there is much media discussion on these issues,
there is little apparent public debate, and the immigrant
group leaders do not often have the opportunity to share
their thoughts directly with the Norwegian government
officials who are supposed to be helping their communities
with integration. But beyond that role as a facilitator for
discussion, participants expressed hope that the U.S. Embassy
would sponsor speakers, debate in public forums such as the
university, and facilitate U.S. cultural programming with the
immigrant communities in Norway. All of these items are on
our engagement program for the coming year, and we anticipate
continued success in our efforts to engage a broader audience
in our close ally Norway as the country grapples with change.