Bergen joins Intercultural Cities
Bergen is the second largest city in Norway with a strong sense of its own distinct identity as a historic hub of international travel and trade. Because of its deep-rooted history in marine exploration and trade Bergen has always played host to foreign visitors and many of these have chosen to stay.
As Bergen has become a focus of the offshore oil and gas industries in the 1970s it has naturally seen a large settlement of relatively highly-skilled and prosperous expatriates. In more recent years, there has been a marked growth in refugees and asylum seekers, reflecting the cityís expressed intention of being seen as a place of welcome and sanctuary. In the period 2006-2011 Bergen resettled 1836 refugees, included family reunification.
This cityís demographic growth can to a large extent be attributed to immigrants who constituted approximately 70 percent of the increase between 2006 and 2011. Migrants originate from 161 different countries and the average residence period for the foreign migrants in Bergen is just below 9 years. A low unemployment rate, high salaries and a well-developed welfare state make Norway an attractive destination for many.
The City of Bergen passed its first comprehensive action plan for integration, Diversity brings Possibilities (Mangfold gir muligheter) in 1998. In particular it made provision for the establishment of an Introduction Centre for refugees, courses for municipal employees in intercultural relations, and specialized work qualification and Norwegian language courses.
In 2007 City of Bergen approved a new action plan for integration Ė Integration is Everybodyís Responsibility (Integrering er alles ansvar). It built upon the plan from 1998 and, as the title suggests, was emphasizing the responsibility of all parts of the municipal organization.
The wording of both of the past plans is rather striking and, in their sentiments would appear to be ahead of their time in both the Norwegian and international contexts. However politicians and officials themselves concede that in practice Bergen has been rather less wide-ranging in its ambitions than the titles might suggest. The City has focused heavily upon supporting refugees and asylum seekers, which can engender a perspective that migrants are people with special needs. Now the City needs to move on to also seeing migrants as people with special resources to contribute. Its accession, in January 2014 to the Intercultural cities programme, is expected to trigger a broad reflection on new strategic targets and working methods which will help the city to realise even more full and sustainably the diversity advantage.