iassw logoSocial Dialogue #17
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Janet Carter Anand Faculty of Social Sciences and Business Studies, University of Eastern Finland

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Prof. Dr. Stefan Borrmann Hochschule Landshut - University of Applied Science

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Johanna Schuster-Craig Michigan State University, USA

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Caren J. Frost Director, Center for Research on Migration & Refugee Integration

Integration or Inclusion? Defining Terms in the Context of Refugee Resettlement and Right-Wing Populism


Over the past decade, there has been an increase in internationally displaced persons, which now stands at over 60 million people worldwide. Currently, approximately 20 million people (one-third of the 60 million) are considered refugees (UNHCR, 2017). As individuals who are refugees migrate to another country and/or are resettled, question emerge about how to ensure that they are able to safely and adequately settle into a new cultural, economic, and legal context. The two terms we see used in describing this process are "integration" and "inclusion." At a recent conference in Landshut, Germany, we engaged in a concerted dialogue about what these terms mean and how they are applied in different countries. One of our areas of discussion was how the rhetoric used to describe (un)successful refugee resettlement potentially intersects with right-wing populist arguments which demonize refugees as a security threat or which portray immigrants of any kind a threat to national identity.

"Integration" has become the hallmark of resettlement work in the U.S. and the U.K. without a concrete definition of what it means (Ager & Strang, 2004). According to the dictionary, integration is "free association of people from different racial and ethnic backgrounds" and "incorporation as equals into society or an organization of individuals of different groups." These definitions suggest that people in a group or society work together to allow for incorporation of new individuals. Integration requires a reference frame that specifies the norm of a society. However, this frame may mean that norms are not specified at first and how a frame is designed depends on those who have the social power to define it (Brokamp 2016). This reference indicates that refugees coming to a new society must take a place within an extant framework for which they have no reference point. Sometimes this happens easily and without challenges because there are benevolent advocates from the established group, but in most cases there is a "struggle" because the established structures and understandings are those maintained by the group with existing privileges. With regard to access to a society, this means that the "new" must always measure themselves against the criteria of the "old."


"Inclusion", a term more recently used in Europe, radically alters this view by dispensing with a defined reference frame and taking a closer look at the society as a whole -- and acknowledging all of its various kinds of diversity. The dictionary defines inclusion as "the action or state of including or of being included within a group or structure." This frame suggests that newly arriving individuals can become part of the whole, which is the reference framework. This framework refers to an ideal open society, which rejects dividing society into multiple closed spaces for which special access criteria apply. It is no longer necessary to look at why the "newcomers" do not meet the existing access criteria, and what support they need in this regard, rather the structures for accessing the criteria themselves are questioned. This term and its understanding have radical consequences for systems such as a college/university, which is built around structural barriers for accessing the system (for Germany see KMK 2015).

Country Frames

Country frames

To clarify how these terms impact refugees resettled in different regions of the world, we provide three case examples: Finland, Germany, and the U.S. All three countries have political parties in which nativist arguments are invoked by right-wing populist political actors.


Finland has traditionally been an emigration country and the population is considered more ethnically homogenous compared to most other European countries (Heikkilä & Peltonen, 2002). The recent migration of Middle Eastern refugees (32,000 asylum seekers entered Finland in 2015/2016) has introduced yet another layer of ethno-cultural diversity into Finnish society. As a signatory state, Finland is fully committed to the UN Refugee Convention 1951 and takes a relatively legalistic approach to immigration and humanitarian issues (Tanner, 2016). The Ministry of Labor is primarily involved in the integration of refugees, who are then required to participate in a formal integration plan provided by the Labour Office or municipal social security in order to receive benefits. Successive Finnish governments have not been successful in promoting a diverse and socially inclusive society for migrants and nationalistic, anti-migration and populistic views persist. Finnish research (Anu, 2012) on Russian, Somali and Kurdish immigrants reports significant health inequalities for migrants across key determinants of health, mental health and social wellbeing (Anu, 2012).

It was no coincidence that at time of the so-called refugee crisis the Finns Party won the Finnish vote in the 2015 elections and joined the government coalition as the second-largest party in Parliament. The Finns Party actively propagates nationalistic sentiments as to the virtues of being a true Finn alongside anti-immigrant rhetoric. Finland has witnessed unprecedented protests and physical attacks against asylum seekers. The reasons for this crucial shift towards a more negative climate on immigration are many. The rise of social media has offered an anonymous platform to express previously unpopular or politically incorrect ideas (Tanner 2016). Populist, xenophobic and nationalist sentiments have been fueled in part by an economic downturn in Finland. Asylum seekers and refugees, who receive well-publicized benefits and show poor levels of integration, often become the scapegoat for many domestic social ills.

The profession of social work in Finland plays a strong social administrative role in the reception and resettlement of refugees (Valtonen, 2001) and the Settlement Movement (based on the original work of Jane Addams) has a rich tradition in social and community action. These practices promote social inclusion within local communities. However, Finnish social workers find themselves pressured into more legalistic roles in promoting the integration of refugees with little or no resources available to facilitate more inclusive interventions and structural social work – whilst the communities in which they practice are shaped by contradictory humanitarian and populist views.

United States

In the U.S., resettlement agencies strive toward refugee integration. "Successful" integration means that individuals are employed and can pay their own bills. This definition is based on federal expectations and what services programs supported by federal funding should provide. According to Ager and Strang (2004), there are 10 indicators of integration: employment, housing, education, health, social bridges, social bonds, social links, language & cultural knowledge, safety & stability, and rights & citizenship. While these indicators are important, it is unclear how to measure these indicators in the context of integration (Taintor & Lichtenstein, 2016). The task of integrating is placed fully on newly arriving individuals and not on the receiving/hosting communities. In addition, in the context of the 2017 Executive Orders issued by President Trump, there is an effort to marginalize certain refugee communities, which further reduces the options for people of Muslim backgrounds to integrate into U.S. society. Inclusion, as described above, is not on the radar for the U.S. and structural barriers are in place to ensure that integration is difficult. For some communities, inclusion is almost impossible. Welcoming America, a non-profit agency in the U.S., has begun to define what "welcoming" means in the context of resettling immigrants and refugees--furthering a discussion about welcoming that may allow communities to identify methods of creatively promoting dialogue to better understand how receiving/hosting and resettling communities can work toward integration, and possibly inclusion, together.


In the three national contexts briefly explored above, refugee migration brings political, legal and social challenges. The word "integration" in all three contexts seems to describe a top-down governmental practice of demanding adjustment from refugees and a basic willingness to adapt to a new political, legal and social context. While adjustment and adaptation are part of any process of migration, adherence to an integrative framework also may strengthen systemic and structural barriers which limit the full inclusion of refugees into professional and civic life. These integrative barriers include adherence to an "integration plan" in Finland, gatekeeping procedures to university admission in Germany, and the highly controversial 2017 Executive Orders in the United States.

In the context of refugee integration and national politics, it is difficult to separate out which elements of integration rhetoric reflect the nativist beliefs which political scientist Cas Mudde argues are the foundation of right-wing party families, and which elements of integration rhetoric reflect a populist ideology which pits a pure and homogenous people against a corrupt elite (Mudde 2007). Nationalist demands to integrate may reflect a space in which nativism and populism can seamlessly overlap. "Integration" thus might prove to be a way of conceiving of resettlement that is especially susceptible to manipulation in right-wing populist rhetoric. Finnish political demonization of refugee welfare benefits, German unwillingness to question structural barriers to access, and U.S. policies which place the burden of integration on refugee communities themselves all reflect obstacles to reframing the process of refugee resettlement through a lens of inclusion rather than integration.


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Brokamp, B. (2016). Inklusion als Aufgabe und Chance für Alle. Available at bkj.de
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