The need for Intercultural mediators for Immigration
By Jessica Tallman
During my recent research on cultural mediation I have come across many articles suggesting that mediation is needed for immigration settlement. What seems to be needed specifically is more of a social worker who has training in cultural awareness, mediation and perhaps even translation. Many of the articles label this need as being an “Intercultural mediator”. Is that the proper label they should be given? Is a professionally trained mediator needed? Will the person taking on this role be dealing with conflict resolution?
Of course, mediators who work in international or intercultural conflict should have proper training for this type of mediation however; the issues of immigration settlement are not solely based on conflict. Many of the issues that arise from a new immigrant settling in a new culture is more related to communication issues rather than a need for mediation. It seems as though a new immigrant’s needs would be what I would call a “cultural facilitator”.
This person would be responsible for helping the new immigrant to complete simple societal functions such as dealing with the government for legal matters, taxes, and other services as well as incorporating themselves in the community. Most of these tasks may also require translation help, whether it be a language translation or perhaps a cultural translation. Other legal help needed may even be done by an immigration counsellor. Using a cultural facilitator for these needs would be very useful for the new immigrants as well as the actors of the host society. They would act as a sort of support system for the new immigrant and their family. Many conflicts within immigration settlement tend to arrive when there is a miscommunication between the new immigrant and an actor in the host society. This can be due to language and/or cultural barriers which could be prevented by the use of a cultural facilitator. In this case, a mediator would not necessarily be needed.
Looking at the issue from the perspective of the host society, a cultural facilitator could also be used to help bridge the gap between the immigrant communities and the host society communities by facilitating introductions or events involving the two groups. This would help the new immigrants to assimilate and the host society to accept and understand the new culture.
Another current issue is that social workers, who do not have proper intercultural training seem to be the ones who are helping with immigrant settlement which is not ideal therefore, intercultural mediators are asked to help. A solution suggested in the literature, is to avoid the need for mediators by giving cultural training to the social workers. They could then help the immigrants in the host society communities to better adjust and then use mediators simply when a conflict has arisen. The economic viability of a sort of “cultural facilitator” or providing training for social workers is non-existent in most countries dealing with immigration issues at the moment and thus the problem persists. As more and more anti- immigration sentiments are increasing across the globe, this could become a larger problem or perhaps, an opportunity for mediators. Mediation trainers could provide more specific mediation and cultural training to social workers or mediators who are interested in working with immigration may have the opportunity to become specialized in Intercultural Mediation for Immigration (IMfI).
A research project has been completed recently suggesting that Intercultural mediators for Immigration are in fact needed. A project called “Train Intercultural Mediators for an Intercultural Europe” (TIME) has been released including the research report, good practices as well as training tools and materials based on their study. It shows the gaps and necessity for intercultural mediators in Europe due to the overwhelming amount of immigrants lately as well as the belief that diversity is considered a wealth for European societies. The TIME project aims to aid in the challenge and difficulties that may arise from immigration of Europeans immigrating to other European countries as well as immigrants coming from outside of Europe. “Intercultural mediation has been considered to be the most proper, low cost and win- win approach to ensure migrants integration in the host society.
Cultural mediators have to integrate this crucial point to act as a bridge between institutions and migrants. Their role and status is a key issue in building the local intercultural management policy”. (TIME Report) The study argues that intercultural mediators are needed in immigration for their skills of emphasizing matters of culture and language and their focus on the complex and at the same time interdisciplinary character of communication. The combination of psychology, sociology, science of communication, political science as well as the specific skills and competencies of recognizing body language, having basic knowledge of legal and procedural issues, having highly developed empathy and awareness, confidentiality and neutrality of a mediator is seen as a great benefit to countries experiencing immigration issues at the moment.
The study continues to note that Intercultural mediation is not a registered profession globally and therefore the role of an intercultural mediator is not clearly defined. Is this really a question of needing Intercultural mediators? Or should these immigration aid workers have a different label? Perhaps a sort of collaboration between mediators and social workers could be a possibility as well? What do you think?