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Reception of resettled refugees

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This section defines the basic elements of an integration programme for welcoming resettled refugees. More detailed information on these basic elements (e.g. orientation, integration case management) are described in other sections of this Handbook. While the emphasis in this section is on reception arrangements for resettled refugees funded by government, many of the principles and processes described in it apply equally to resettled refugees received through, for example, community sponsorship programs or supported by integration/settlement agencies or NGOs.

When establishing a new programme, think about:
  • airport reception and transit arrangements.
  • interpretation.
  • reception accommodation.
  • basic practical orientation
  • linkages between reception care and integration support.
  • arrangements for identifying resettled refugees with intensive needs, in particular, acute health problems.
Welcoming and receiving resettled refugees

The first weeks and months in a receiving society have the potential to overwhelm. At the same time, they lay the foundations for the future. Upon their arrival, resettled refugees may be anxious about their future, and in an unfamiliar environment, they may experience “culture shock”. During this intense period, they may grieve for the loss of family members left behind, doubt their ability to cope, and even question their decision to resettle. The reception period is also one of intense adjustment to an unfamiliar environment, a time when resettled refugees will be coming to terms with a range of changes, from 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. 

Integration programmes are typically funded by government with service delivery made by non-governmental organisations (NGOs). Volunteers and refugee communities also have an important role in refugee reception. In a community sponsorship programme, sponsors will have play more of a role during the reception phase. See for example the Global Refugee Sponsorship Initiative. Ultimately, countries will adopt different reception models depending on their national context.

Planning issues to consider

Elements of the reception process

While reception processes differ, common elements include:

  • meeting resettled refugees at the airport. As well as serving obvious practical purposes, this is an opportunity to provide a warm welcome to refugees. In some countries, NGOs, volunteers and members of refugee communities are engaged in this process. However, care should be taken not to overwhelm resettled refugees, many of whom may be tired after a long journey.
  • transit arrangements between the airport and either reception accommodation or the first placement community. 
  • access to interpretation.
  • basic practical orientation including introduction to safety, emergency and language resources, transportation and grocery shopping options, banking and personal finance systems, registering with relevant government programs (e.g. income support, health care, public housing), school enrolment, the local workforce, legal and cultural considerations and expectations for resettlement.
  • refugees being given the address of their accommodation. A list of emergency contacts should be provided with instructions on how to call for an ambulance, the police or the fire service.
  • initial contact with the settlement agency that would provide ongoing integration support.

The reception process may also be utilised to:

  • offer post arrival health care.
  • begin to provide language instruction.
  • provide more intensive orientation provide more intensive orientation.

In some countries, the reception phase is very short, with resettled refugees being placed in permanent housing in the community immediately or within days of their arrival. Immediate placement in permanent housing can foster independence and stability which can accelerate the integration process. Temporary housing can be used as an alternative solution until permanent accommodation can be arranged.

How should reception be organised?

Accommodation on arrival

For their longer-term health and well-being, it is particularly important to provide newly resettled refugees with safe and secure accommodation. Doing so is often a major challenge for receiving authorities, please see more information under the housing section.

Reception centres

Some countries accommodate refugees in dedicated reception centres for the first weeks or months, most are managed by government agencies in collaboration with municipalities. Reception centres offer accommodation while refugees settle into their new environment and deal with immediate administrative and other tasks. They are venues for language, orientation and employment training, and some also provide healthcare and other services, and sometimes facilitate case management and support. However, refugees who remain too long may never make the essential step to autonomy and social inclusion. It is therefore important to help resettled refugees find permanent housing as soon as possible.

Other supported accommodation

If refugees are accommodated in other forms of housing, the accommodation offered should be habitable and adequately furnished (with essential furniture, household appliances, and bedlinen, initial food supplies, etc). Refugees should receive basic instruction on housing regulations and safety, including the operation of household appliances (washing machines, stoves, central heating, etc.). It may be necessary to provide warm clothing and basic toiletries. Some receiving authorities provide a package that includes fresh food (including culturally appropriate food), essential personal hygiene items, and cleaning products.

Engaging volunteers in the reception process

In several countries municipalities engage volunteers in the reception process. Volunteers might prepare new arrivals’ accommodation with food and flowers, welcome them and in the following weeks take them on guided tours of the city to introduce them to basic facilities and services (e.g. health clinics, the post office). The volunteers impart informal local knowledge and play an important role in explaining and ‘interpreting’ the host society. Engaging volunteers can relieve the pressures on municipal officers or settlement agencies.


Good practice features

A sound integration programme would:

  • have arrangements in place to ensure that resettled refugees are met and welcomed on arrival at the airport.
  • ensure that language resources such as trained interpreters are available.
  • place resettled refugees directly into permanent housing or provide temporary accommodation until permanent accommodation can be secured.
  • provide resettled refugees with assistance in securing longer term accommodation, where applicable.
  • have arrangements in place for basic practical orientation as part of the reception process.
  • have procedures in place for the identification and treatment of health problems.
  • have sound linkages with settlement agencies and service providers of longer-term integration support such as job readiness.
  • have measures in place to identify, monitor and offer additional support to resettled refugees with diverse and/or complex needs (consult section on Age, Gender and Diversity for further information).