Intercultural work abroad

In EU countries with a longer history of immigration, the continuous support and professionalization of interpreting services, assistance at governmental offices and other public institutions, negotiation and conflict prevention in communities and neighborhoods are among the priorities of integration policy, especially at the local level. These activities are performed primarily by migrants or persons with migration experience and knowledge of multiple languages ​​and cultures. The competencies involved include community interpreting, social counseling, intercultural mediation and community work.  Given the different situations depending on the context of each European country, the names of the professions in the field of mediation of communication between migrants and public institutions are diverse. We come across socio-cultural mediators (Portugal, France), intercultural mediators (Spain, Belgium and Austria), BürgerLotsen civil navigators (Germany), community/social interpreters (United Kingdom, Finland, Belgium), “femmes-relais” or “adultes-relais”/women mediators, adult mediators (France). On a theoretical level, all of these professions correspond to the concept of intercultural mediation as developed by Carlos Gimenéz Romero. In the words of Pascall Rillofa from the European Network for Public Service Interpreting and Translation – ENSPIT, these professions have one thing in common – they extend basic democratic rights to all citizens.

After having mapped out the foreign practice of the establishment of professions dedicated to assistance for migrants in public institutions and the promotion of friendly coexistence in a culturally diverse society, one can draw the following general conclusions:

  • The concept of integration policy

In countries with a long history of immigration foreigners are no longer considered a special target group in the social policy of municipalities. There is a reference to people with migrant background, who often have the status of citizens of the country.  The focus of integration policy is not primarily on the migrants’ adaptation to the new environment, but on balancing the promotion of coexistence and acceptance of cultural diversity. Integration policy is more or less always the responsibility of decentralized governments and NGOs. The role of intercultural mediators is therefore more focused on promoting coexistence and conflict prevention than on advice and assistance to migrants within public institutions. Intercultural mediation as a tool of integration policy is developed mainly in southern EU countries (Spain, Portugal, Italy and France), while northern Europe is more focused on counseling and community interpreting.

  • Institutional establishment of the profession of intercultural mediators

Helping professions, which work with the skills associated with migrant background, migration experience, knowledge of multiple languages, intercultural sensitivity, and mediation skills are jointly developed by several types of institutions from non-governmental organizations, to municipal, government and educational institutions. The financing of these activities mainly comes from municipal budgets and European funds. The stability of funding for NGOs is much higher than in the Czech Republic.

  • Education of intercultural mediators

Education varies from re/qualification courses, which are a few dozen hours long, to undergraduate and postgraduate university studies. The courses tend to a certain degree concentrate on language and interpreting skills, intercultural competencies, self-reflection and reflection on identity, mediation and counseling skills, and knowledge in the field of legislation and migration studies. They are administered by non-governmental organizations or commercial entities on a project basis, where stability is not guaranteed. The courses can also be a part of university curricula, where the sustainability of education is higher, but so are the demands on students.

  • Profile of intercultural mediators

In most countries, professionals who have some background in migration carry out the work. The reason for this is their higher motivation and identification with the topics of migration and integration. Sometimes, it is also the fact that some labor office funded training courses are designed as requalification for people at risk of social exclusion and long-term unemployment.

Experience from abroad shows that the establishment of the new profession is a long-term process, which is accompanied by numerous discussions with professionals and the public in order to define the profile of the profession, funding methods, and especially its place in the job market. It is also a highly political matter, which reflects the political priorities and attitudes of society in relation to migrants. One fundamental finding is that the development of intercultural mediation takes place primarily through cooperation between governments and NGOs. One reoccurring priority is ensuring continuity of education in different forms – from short courses to college programs, and finding a way to streamline employment. The establishment of the profession is often associated with the founding of professional associations.

Intercultural work is a new specialization in helping professions. The training in this area is being developed on a project basis, through specialized seminars or as sub-topics in other specializations such as social work, migration studies, law, psychology, mediation, etc.