Orientation programs and processes
The focus of this section is on strategies for orienting new arrivals to life in the resettlement country. Since orientation may be offered in the context of various other social support or language training programs, this section should be read in conjunction with the sections on social connections and language training. More detail on orientation to specific issues, such as health care and employment, is dealt with in relevant individual sections.Orientation, like integration, is a ‘two-way’ street. It is equally as important for receiving communities to understand the sociocultural background of resettled refugees as it is for newcomers to understand the context of the resettlement country. Strategies for enhancing receiving communities’ understanding of the backgrounds of resettled refugees are discussed throughout this Handbook and are the focus of the section on welcoming and inclusive societies.
When establishing a new program, think about:
- offering pre-departure orientation (PDO) sessions to those refugees offered resettlement including through multimedia tools such as videos.
- determining the timing and logistical arrangements and resources available for the PDO.
- developing PDO materials for children and youth and other specific subgroups.
- ensuring that the following topics are included in the PDO sessions: information on travel procedures; rights, benefits and legal status of refugees in the resettlement country; and information around cultural norms and practices and expectations.
- orientation in the context of early case-management and integration support.
- preparing a brief written statement on the country and its resettlement program which can be used to counsel refugees during the pre-departure phase as well after their arrival.
- incorporating ‘hands-on’ orientation into reception support i.e., enables refugees to learn by either doing or being shown.
- recruiting and training orientation providers as well as local volunteers to assist with orientation.
- obtaining translated information materials from other resettlement countries.
- preparing a list of key support services with contact details.
- obtaining cultural and country of origin information on refugee populations from other resettlement countries for orientation providers.
- systems for monitoring and evaluating orientation programs.
- regular updating of information provided to resettled refugees by maintaining links with service and program providers.
In the long term, aim for:
- course outlines, resources, information and manuals to guide orientation providers and enhance the capacity of personnel in other systems to provide orientation for orientation providers.
- training courses for orientation providers.
- technical support (e.g. websites, help-desk facilities) for orientation providers.
- teaching resources (e.g. audio tapes, videos, games) for orientation providers.
- curricula and resources to promote orientation through language training programs for orientation providers.
- providing information in refugee languages in written, audio or video formats for resettled refugees.
- websites providing orientation information for resettled refugees.
- formal pre- and post arrival orientation programs for resettled refugees.
- engaging caseworkers and volunteers in orientation delivery for resettled refugees.
- making use of other settings to provide orientation to specific services and programs (e.g. health care providers, schools) for resettled refugees.
- tailored orientation programs for diverse groups with specific needs (e.g. refugee children and youth, those with little or no literacy, mature age, disability, mental health, single parents, women-at-risk) or focusing on particular integration issues (e.g. culture shock, intergenerational conflict, parenting, women’s health, caring for a family member with complex health issues including mental health).
Planning orientation programs and processes
Many resettled refugees come from countries with very different religious, sociocultural and political contexts than those in the resettlement country. Upon arrival resettled refugees will need to go through intense adjustment to an unfamiliar environment, a time when they will be coming to terms with a range of changes, from a different language, weather conditions and daily routines to new foods, shopping conventions and currency. This is also a time when resettled refugees must undertake a range of practical tasks such as opening a bank account, registering for income support and health care, and enrolling children in school.
Effective orientation can:
- assist in managing the expectation of resettled refugees on topics such as housing, income support and employment opportunities;
- develop a realistic picture of the receiving society and understand its cultural norms and practices;
- develop an understanding of the receiving society’s expectations of them;
- identify their individual needs and priorities in order to provide guidance and enable them to make informed choices;
- access the resources needed for successful integration;
- restore control and reduce anxiety through the provision of relevant information;
- learn about common problems they may encounter in the integration process such as culture shock;
- form positive first impressions of the receiving society.
Factors affecting orientation
- the refugees’ literacy levels and educational backgrounds;
- cultural learning styles. For example, in some cultures, formal instruction is valued. Others may learn better with interactive approaches;
- whether there is a difference between the socioeconomic context from the refugee’s country-of-origin, country-of-asylum and the resettlement country;
- whether the refugees have prior experience in the paid labour force;
- refugees’ existing knowledge of the resettlement country’s language and the sociocultural context;
- gender and age;
- the level of family and community support available to resettled refugees.
Also influential are factors in the resettlement countries, including:
- the existing infrastructure for refugee selection, reception and integration (including the opportunities for providing information during the pre-departure phase);
- the receiving country’s integration objectives. For example, if the country has a high expectation of economic self-reliance, this will influence both the way in which orientation is delivered and the emphasis placed on finding employment;
- prior contact with, and understanding of, the sociocultural background of resettled refugees among orientation providers.
Planning issues to consider
Mutual understanding and respect can be promoted by:
- using resettled refugees’ country-of-origin experience as a starting point for learning about the receiving society. For example, a programme designed to orient refugee parents to the education system might begin by exploring with parents how education was organised in their countries-of-origin;
- consulting with refugee communities when designing orientation programs;
- consulting with other resettlement countries on their experiences in orientation of refugees from the same background;
- deploying members of refugee communities to deliver orientation programs (see box, below);
- ensuring that orientation providers have relevant background information about the sociocultural context of resettled refugees. A list of sources can be found here.
The advantages of expectation management and information sharing
Refugees may not clearly understand the scope of adjustment and challenges that await them upon arrival. Many have little to no knowledge about the language or culture of their receiving community. It is critically important to provide refugees with timely, accurate and repeated orientation messaging at every step of the process. Misinformation or unmet expectations can have a profound effect upon a refugee’s integration experience. In addition, it is important to ensure consistency with information delivered at the pre-departure stage and during post-arrival orientation.
When should orientation be delivered?
Pre-departure orientation (PDO)
Pre-departure orientation (PDO), or cultural orientation as it can also be called, is increasingly being considered a key element of resettlement programs, and today most states that resettle refugees offer pre-departure training. This is generally provided after refugees have been selected for resettlement and before their departure.
Research suggests that the most common goals of pre-departure programs are to:
- inform refugees on what to expect when resettling to a new country.
- help refugees develop realistic expectations.
- inform refugees what will be expected of them during and after the resettlement process.
- prepare receiving communities and/or service providers for refugees’ arrival.
- lay a stronger foundation for integration.
The duration varies between a few hours up to several days or even weeks (average being 3-5 days). Most countries provide PDO shortly before departure. Some countries also arrange shorter information sessions at the time of the selection interview.
PDO for children and youth
Today, many pre-departure orientation programs are delivered by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), on behalf of, and in close consultation with, national governments. Some countries, such as Belgium and the Netherlands, provide trainings fully or partly of their own, while others adopt a mixed model in collaboration with IOM or other partners. While programs are tailored to fit specific resettlement countries and/or refugee groups, common topics include: travel procedures, information on legal status, rights, benefits and obligations, practical information about everyday life in the resettlement country, often including common values, behaviours and social norms. Some countries also incorporate language courses to varying degrees.
To complement face to face sessions, many countries provide written information, sometimes made available online. Some even provide opportunities for online meetings between refugees and staff from the resettlement country prior to departure, for instance by use of Skype.
Although evaluations of the effects of pre-departure orientations remain limited, and the extent to which resettled refugees are able to learn and retain information prior to departure can be debated, research suggests that PDO does provide an opportunity to ease refugees transition from their ‘old’ to their ‘new’ lives. In doing so, resettlement countries may want to consider the following recommendations:
- Use engaging instructional techniques
- Tailor the trainings to refugees’ needs
- Incorporate the experiences of formerly resettled persons
- Build a bridge between pre-departure and post-arrival information or messages
- Seek to prepare both the refugees and the receiving communities.
- strike a balance between welcoming newcomers and promoting the country’s assets, while being realistic about its limitations.
- outline the country’s prior involvement in refugee resettlement. The formal program may be new, but many emerging countries have a wealth of experience in settling asylum seekers.
- ensure that information is regularly updated to accommodate changes in conditions in the receiving country (both positive and negative) and developments in the resettlement program.
Finland provides 3-days PDO at approximately 2-3 months after the selection mission. The program has been developed in collaboration with a Finnish university. In addition to face-to-face sessions which are carried out by IOM, Finland provides online orientation via a web portal, enabling refugees in various areas of the world, including those who need to move to Finland quickly, to access information in different languages.
The Netherlands has developed an extensive PDO program which includes orientation sessions at three occasions: 20, 12 and 2 weeks before refugees depart. The program is developed and implemented by national actors and spans over approximately 12 days in total. The Netherlands also provides a shorter PDO program covering 2 days for refugees resettled out of Turkey. The program also incorporates lessons learnt and feedback from resettled refugees, municipalities and service providers.
Video – Australian Cultural Orientation (AUSCO)
Video - USA Cultural Orientation Exchange (CORE)
New and emerging resettlement countries may consider
- providing pre-departure information sessions to refugees accepted for resettlement.
- preparing basic written information about the receiving country.
- providing information to UNHCR field staff involved in identifying refugees for resettlement.
- providing pre-departure information sessions to refugees accepted for resettlement.
Resettlement countries all offer some form of face-to-face orientation on economic empowerment (such as labour market integration, banking and personal finance), education and health as part of the initial reception process. However, orientation should be understood as an ongoing process which occurs both formally and informally and which:
- commences in the immediate post-arrival phase (linked to and builds upon the PDO delivered in the country-of-asylum, if applicable);
- extends from the reception period into the early integration period (often in the context of language learning and contact with professional and volunteer support providers);
- continues through resettled refugees’ ongoing contacts with systems such as health, education, social services as well as employment services;
- should be sustainable and have quality outcomes for the individual.
This approach recognises that resettled refugees have different needs at different stages of the integration process as well as different capacities to retain and contextualise information. In the early integration period, the focus is therefore generally on information required to accomplish the immediately necessary tasks of integration. This is a period when resettled refugees have numerous demands on their time and may be more interested on information related to their immediate needs.
Orientation to some aspects of the receiving society may be more meaningful to resettled refugees later when they have a frame of reference and an experiential base to draw on. For example, resettled refugees may be better able to make sense of information about teaching approaches in the receiving society once they have some first-hand experience of the education system and a link with a particular school setting. If orientation is provided at the onset and continues in resettled refugee’s interactions with integration support providers, language training programs and other systems, there are also greater opportunities for ‘learning by doing’.
Some resettlement countries may opt for a group approach to orientation as this is an efficient way of dealing with large refugee intakes, where the volume may make it difficult to offer a more individualised approach. This is achieved through the development of structured group programs delivered by specially trained providers. In others, the level of support provided is tailored to the needs of the individual or family.
This is usually followed by ‘hands-on’ orientation to basic systems such as accessing social services, school enrolment and banking services conducted as part of the reception process. In some countries this is offered routinely to all new arrivals and is relatively standardised during the reception phase. Orientation may be offered by government agencies, integration/settlement agencies and others and may be linked to language training programs and/or professional or voluntary integration support programs.
Recognising the importance of ongoing orientation, particularly to wider systems and resources (such as health care and education), a number of countries have developed strategies for engaging staff from these systems in the process of orienting new arrivals.
Providing orientation through specific settings can also help reach refugees that may not otherwise participate in more formal programs (for example, refugee youth may be more readily reached through school settings or youth clubs).
Former refugees in orientation roles
A number of countries have sought to involve people from refugee and diaspora communities in delivering orientation programs. In some countries for example, former refugees who have worked in integration settings at the domestic level may be engaged to deliver pre-departure orientation. In other countries, former refugees offer orientation through their participation in volunteer or community sponsorship programs. It is vital that orientation be provided by individuals who are appropriately trained, supported and supervised. These staff bring a number of unique skills, including:
- detailed knowledge of the integration environment in the receiving society;
- language skills;
- an appreciation of the resettlement process based on their own experiences.
Orientation through language training
Some countries use language training programs as a place for imparting information about the receiving society. Sessions can be provided on specific orientation topics in the refugees’ mother-tongue, or information can be imparted through curricula in the context of language learning exercises. This approach has a number of advantages: it enables resettled refugees to learn about the receiving society in the course of accomplishing another integration task; instruction is usually provided in a group context allowing interactive learning approaches; where curriculum approaches are used, refugees are able to learn simultaneously both conceptual information and the language they will require to negotiate systems and resources in the receiving society.
Ensuring consistency of information
Content of orientation programs
In the below, identifies some of the broad areas addressed in refugee orientation programs and materials. It is intended as a guide only. The information included in specific programs and materials will depend on a range of factors, including the setting in which orientation is being delivered, the stage of the selection and resettlement and integration process, the needs and ages of refugee participants, and conditions in and expectations of the resettlement country.
Where possible, orientation programs and materials should be developed in close consultation with refugee communities in the receiving society. It is also important that close links are maintained between refugee service providers and other agencies involved in orientation as this will help to ensure that orientation programs are updated in response to changes in service systems and entitlements.
Key messages are likely to be ‘heard’ and retained, if they are repeated both within formal pre-departure orientation programs and later in the post arrival orientation process. It is important that the information provided at the different stages is consistent.
- From time-to-time it may be necessary to develop special programs to meet the needs of specific refugees. Special programs may be useful to address integration issues (such as domestic violence, and child welfare).
Orientation to basic characteristics, systems and resources of the receiving society
- standards of living
- sociocultural context, population diversity, history
- differences between urban and rural areas
- public safety and provision of emergency phone numbers
- languages spoken
- climatic conditions and geography
- health and hygiene
- cost of living
- governance and legal systems
- expectations of economic self-sufficiency
- public transportation
- private vehicle licence and insurance requirements
- banking (ATMs, cheque accounts, loans)
- income support, including programs for those participating in further education and training
- health care and health insurance
- law enforcement
- education (including post-secondary, and re-certification opportunities) childcare
- support for older persons or persons with disabilities
- shopping (e.g. purchasing conventions, speciality food markets)
- labour unions and professional and trade associations
- apply for reunification with family members and navigate systems
- seek assistance to trace family members
- secure integration and support, including specific services for resettled refugees
- access job preparation and placement programs
- find a job
- establish a business
- make contact with refugee-led and/or community-based organisations and services
- access language assistance
- find a house
- secure income support
- enrol children in school
- access health care and psychosocial support
- access family support and counselling services
- gain accreditation, certification or registration to practice a trade or profession
- apply for citizenship
- enrol in a target language training program
- personal finance and budgeting
- obligations of sponsors/proposers
- legal rights and responsibilities of refugees (as consumers, health care users, employees, etc)
- services available to assist in protecting rights
- family, marital and parenting relationships (e.g. domestic violence, child discipline and welfare)
- female genital mutilation, forced marriage, child marriage
- rights and responsibilities
- culture and norms of the receiving society (e.g. family relationships, gender roles)
- stereotyping, racism, discrimination and xenophobia
- approach to diversity in the receiving country
- skills building
- the process of adjustment (culture shock)
Initiatives to support and promote orientation
Some countries have developed booklets in key refugee languages conveying information about the receiving society to distribute to resettled refugees prior to, or soon after, arrival. See for example Welcome to the United States and the Finnish Refugee Council's publication as well as online guide ‘Welcome to Finland’. Written materials in the language spoken by the refugees provides a reliable source of information that resettled refugees can access prior to or after arrival in the resettlement country.
Providing orientation requires skills in adult learning and cross-cultural communication on the part of the orientation provider. It also requires an understanding of the refugee and resettlement experience, the integration policy of the receiving country, the rights and responsibilities of resettled refugees and the resources available to them in the receiving society. Those providing orientation will require appropriate training and support for their roles.
Interactive and varied learning experiences are important strategies for ensuring that information is retained. Resources have been developed to promote this. For example, many countries have created the Welcome to… videos that are used as a tool to supplement and re-enforce a country’s reception orientation program.
A number of resettlement countries have developed websites with useful information on integration for resettled refugees as well as orientation providers (see for example CORE).
In countries where cultural orientation is built into language training programs, governments have sought to ensure that relevant areas are addressed through the development of national curricula. Other countries have developed specific teacher resource materials to serve the dual purposes of orientation and facilitating language acquisition.
Consider incorporating the following into training programs for orientation providers:
Planning and organisational skills
- making sure the program is accessible (e.g., transport, childcare).
- planning for resettled refugees with specific needs.
- venue (non-threatening, risk-free, private).
Interpersonal and group work skills
- establishing rapport
- group dynamics.
- cross-cultural communication.
- listening skills.
- adult learning techniques and principles for adult refugees and age appropriate approaches for children and youth.
- the impact of trauma and torture;training in vicarious trauma.
- information about the various backgrounds and sociocultural contexts of resettled refugees.
- information about different cultural learning styles.
- exploring one’s own sociocultural context.
- background information on relevant country-of-origin and country-of-asylum.
- dealing with sensitive cross-cultural issues, such as female genital mutilation, forced/child marriage, polygamy, domestic violence, and rights of the individual, including LGBTIQ+ rights
- the role and importance of community in their daily life and decision-making processes.
- information about the rights and responsibilities of refugees.
- resources available
- information on support systems available to orientation providers
- identification and referral mechanisms for individuals requiring more intensive, professional support.
Orienting providers to the sociocultural backgrounds of resettled refugees
Good practice features
Overall, a sound integration program would:
- support, plan coordinate and resource orientation as a critical component of an integration program.
- deliver an appropriate level of orientation support based on the different needs of individual resettled refugees
- incorporate mechanisms for monitoring and evaluation of orientation programs in consultation with refugee communities and service providers.
- have arrangements in place for orientation of resettled refugees with different needs (e.g. children and youth, unaccompanied minors, victims of violence, women at risk, elders, LGBTIQ+); orienting the receiving society on the sociocultural context and background of resettled refugees.
- foster opportunities to integrate orientation into other resettlement processes (e.g. language learning, accessing health care).
- engage relevant systems (health care) in the orientation process.
- plan to ensure that orientation is an ongoing process.
- recognise that resettled refugees have different information needs and different capacities to absorb and contextualise information at different stages of the resettlement process (e.g. limited life experience, literacy level, lack of computer skills).
Services and programs for orientating resettled refugees would:
- be inclusive and provide age appropriate learning principles and techniques.
- be voluntary but encouraged.
- respect and sociocultural context and background of resettled refugees.
- use interactive learning methodologies.
- be delivered by personnel who are appropriately trained and supported.
- be delivered (where possible) by people from the same sociocultural and language backgrounds as resettled refugees.
- engage skilled interpreters where first language delivery is not possible.