Promoting integration through social connections
The focus of this section is on ways in which resettlement countries can provide assistance and support to refugees to enhance social connections in the receiving community. Refugees will need to navigate various practical tasks in an unfamiliar environment, often with limited fluency in the language of the receiving community. Providing early social support can help reduce anxiety and assist resettled refugees to gain a sense of control and independence. Early positive relationships in the receiving community have other benefits, such as restoring a refugee’s sense of belonging. This type of support can be facilitated by integration caseworkers, youth workers, volunteers (i.e., buddies, mentors). Whenever possible or relevant, resettled refugees should be placed close to family members. The support provided by family is a vital resource in the integration process.
Supportive relationships with members of established refugee and diaspora communities can also help resettled refugees to build their connections with the receiving community. Through these connections they can access other important integration resources such as employment, volunteering opportunities and a wider social network, as well as opportunities to participate in wider community activities.
Social connections between resettled refugees and members of diaspora communities are particularly important in this regard. Supporting refugees to reconnect with the cultural and religious institutions that are familiar to them can assist them in maintaining their cultural integrity while building a new identity in the receiving community. At the same time, it should be kept in mind that some refugees might not seek contact with the refugee community of the same origin due to personal circumstances and reasons for flight from their country of origin.
When establishing a new programme, think about:
- establishing processes and services to address the different needs of resettled refugees during the integration process.
- establishing placement policies to enhance social inclusion.
- identifying opportunities for resettled refugees to participate in local cultural, community and recreational events.
- incorporating information about family reunion provisions and settlement support programmes in orientation information provided to resettled refugees.
- support for the development of volunteer programs in the community.
- professional development and support for integration caseworkers and volunteers, including language training for interpretation.
- building the capacity of integration-related services that support resettled refugees.
- building and supporting the capacity of refugee-led and community-based organisations.
- determining the feasibility of establishing a community sponsorship programme to engage individuals, local communities and organisations in the reception and integration process along with appropriate training, support and monitoring for sponsors.
Planning issues to consider
The long-term objective of integration programs is to ensure that resettled refugees have access to the same level and quality of services as nationals, and that refugees come to feel part of their new community. However, refugees may have particular and intensive support needs in the immediate post-arrival stage, which are unlikely to be met by existing services available to nationals. For this reason, a number of countries have established specialised services to assist new arrivals with long term integration support, see for example section on integration casework management section.
In some countries the primary responsibility for integration and social support lies with the government. Social support is an area where it is important to engage other partners, among them non-governmental agencies (NGOs), grassroots initiatives, refugee-led organizations and volunteers from receiving communities. They tend to be locally based, have a wider support network and a detailed knowledge of local resources and systems.
Mainstreaming of integration services
Some countries integrate the services they provide to refugees in the services they provide to nationals. This can be an effective way to quickly immerse refugees in their new communities. Mainstreaming offers refugees and nationals equal treatment and opportunities, while targeting and addressing specific needs that refugees may have. Having reviewed the range of services they provide, countries often decide to add specialised programmes to support integration because it can address gaps in refugee-specific support and expertise. Specialised services are normally tailored to meet the needs of specific refugee populations and, within them, the specific needs of individual refugees. Mainstreamed services must also evolve, of course, to reflect the changing profile of a population.
Capacity building in refugee and diaspora communities
Established refugee and diaspora communities can help receiving communities prepare for new arrivals, in addition to extending hospitality and support themselves. Local community actors, including faith-based groups, community associations and student societies, also play critical welcoming and support roles. In some countries, the authorities formally develop partnerships and networks with community stakeholders and local media to promote welcoming and integration initiatives.
Members of established refugee and diaspora communities have contributed to the social support of resettled refugees: They can provide:
- language skills – a particularly important resource in countries where formal interpreting and translating services are limited or costly.
- cultural skills – they can serve as ‘cultural consultants’ or ‘cultural interpreters’. ‘Cultural interpreters’ who use their knowledge to assist refugees to better understand cultural differences and practices.
- an understanding of the demands and requirements of resettlement based on their own experience.
- links with social and business networks and religious and cultural institutions.
Importantly, engaging refugee communities in the provision of social support is one way of ensuring refugee involvement in the planning and development of services. Resettlement countries have sought to build the capacity of refugee communities to provide support by:
- offering training and professional development programmes to members of refugee communities working in social support roles in either a paid or voluntary capacity. These can range from highly formalised, accredited programmes through to relatively informal peer training.
- work force development initiatives aimed at supporting refugee-led and other community-based organisations.
- providing funding and technical support to facilitate the development of support services and associations for refugees.
Issues to consider in engaging refugee community support
Members of existing refugee communities have a critical role to play in building social connections for recently resettled refugees. Experience suggests that the following are factors to be taken into consideration:
- Former refugees bring language and cultural knowledge. However, they may need some support to acquire the skills needed to fulfil their role (e.g. setting boundaries, confidentiality, or providing information about the systems and resources available to resettled refugees in the receiving community).
- Access to debriefing will be particularly important because exposure to traumatic histories of other refugees may serve as triggers of their own experiences, or those of close relatives and friends.
- Efforts should be made to recognise the work carried out by former refugees engaged in voluntary roles. For example, in a number of countries, training programmes for volunteers are accredited or voluntary work is given formal recognition, which can enhance future employment prospects for participants.
- Refugee community support volunteers can maintain an ongoing dialogue with integration caseworkers in the receiving community which can facilitate resettled refugees’ integration.
A decision will have to be made on whether to engage existing refugee communities to support newly resettled refugees. This would be based on the specific context in the resettlement country and the cohort of resettled refugees. There may be religious, ethnic, political and clan-based diversity within refugee communities which may influence their suitability to provide support to all newcomers.
Building the capacity of sponsors
Community sponsorship programmes provide an opportunity for individuals, local communities, and organizations to be directly engaged in the reception and integration of resettled refugees. Broadening the number and types of actors involved in supporting refugees can increase access to protection and solutions for refugees and build positive voices in support of refugees more broadly. All programmes would normally have in place training and ongoing support for sponsors. For more information on training of sponsors, see for example:
Community sponsorship programmes
Community sponsorship presents another model of integration. Most community sponsorship programmes have been developed relatively recently. State practice is developing in three directions:
- Sponsored resettlement: Sponsorship as a tool for reception and integration support for refugees who are referred by UNHCR for resettlement and matched with a sponsor.
- Support for refugees admitted through complementary pathways: Sponsorship can also be used as a tool for reception and integration to support refugees who are admitted through a complementary pathway, such as education, employment or family reunification.
- Named sponsorship: Sponsorship as a pathway allows communities, individuals or institutions to sponsor and support the entry and stay of named or nominated individuals. The short-hand way of labelling such programmes would be “named sponsorship”.
UNHCR recommends that during the design and building of community sponsorship programmes there should be a focus on three general principles:
- Additionality – community sponsorship programmes can expand solutions for refugees and in doing so, do not diminish government-assisted programs but rather enhance them through support of UNHCR-referred refugees. The aim is to effectively contribute to an increase in international responsibility-sharing;
- Protection focus – community sponsorship programmes should not endorse or encourage selectivity. The primarily focus should be on individuals with resettlement needs that are referred by UNHCR;
- Safeguards – community sponsorship programmes should not diminish State responsibility for protection and solutions. Community sponsorship programmes should also be underpinned by a safety net of government support and rights consistent with international protection standards.
Video – Canada
Video - Ireland
Different sponsorship models:
- United Kingdom
The UK Community Sponsorship programme supports the UK’s existing Syrian Vulnerable Persons Resettlement Scheme (VPRS). All cases are UNHCR-referred. The government matches UNHCR referred refugees with sponsor groups. The program was limited to the Syria situation but will be global and additional as of 2020. For more information, please click here.
In addition to the government assisted refugee programme (GAR), Canada has one of the longest-running Private Sponsorship of Refugees (PSR) programme. The PSR is principally a ‘named’ programme for non-UNHCR referred cases that are identified directly by sponsors. Sponsors could be charitable organizations or groups of five individuals. More recently, Canada introduced the Blended Visa Office-Referred (BVOR) program which connects UNHCR-referred refugees with sponsors. For more information, please click here.
Ireland’s community sponsorship programme is intended to support resettlement at increased levels from previous years and meet ambitious resettlement targets that were unlikely to be met through the government delivered programme. Similar to the UK’s, all cases are UNHCR-referred. The government matches UNHCR referred refugee with sponsor groups. It started as a pilot in 2019, but was formally launched in November 2019. For more information, please click here.
Argentina’s programme is technically a humanitarian admission programme since refugees are not provided with refugee status but have a pathway to citizenship. The programme started as a ‘named’ programme but has evolved to include UNHCR referrals further to UNHCR advocacy. The program is limited to the Syria situation, but Argentina has announced its the intention to expand the program to all nationalities in 2020/2021. For more information, please click here.
Germany’s Community Sponsorship Programme was announced in February 2018. The pilot aims to admit 500 refugees by the end of 2020. First arrivals occurred in November 2019. The target population of the program mirrors Germany’s resettlement quota allocations in 2019. For more information (in German), please click here.
For more information, please see: European Resettlement Network and Global Refugee Sponsorship Initiative
Good practice features
Overall, a sound integration programme would:
- engage government, non-government agencies and the refugee and wider communities in building social connections.
- develop strategies for enhancing the capacity of refugee communities to offer support to newcomers.
- develop strategies to ensure that social support services provided to nationals are accessible to resettled refugees.
Specific programmes established to enhance social connections for resettled refugees would:
- provide language assistance.
- engage refugee communities in planning and implementation.
- promote mutual benefits for both resettled refugees, the receiving society, individuals and volunteers providing support.
- provide or facilitate access to support by removing practical barriers (childcare, transport, translation, etc.).
- promote participation of nationals to programmes that support social connections.
- provide culturally sensitive and age appropriate support.
- take account of the needs of the whole family as well as individual family members, including refugee children and youth.
- build connections and supportive relationships between resettled refugees and wider local communities.