Promoting welcoming and inclusive societies
An environment that promotes solidarity, diversity and openness is essential for resettlement to grow sustainably. The arrival of refugees can trigger positive social and economic changes, transform civic culture and local institutions, and promote social cohesion, particularly when local communities are engaged in welcoming them.
The focus of this section is on ways in which resettlement countries can promote social cohesion and create more welcoming societies. It is concerned with steps that can be taken to achieve these objectives at both the community and governmental levels and through the media. Government has an important role in fostering a welcoming environment by setting overall legislative and planning frameworks and providing funding to support capacity building activities in receiving communities. As integration occurs at the local level, communities must also be prepared to welcome and support resettled refugees. Facilitating access to resources and fostering the conditions in which resettled refugees can engage with systems and individuals in the receiving society helps to prevent their social and economic marginalisation. Mutual understanding and respect between resettled refugees and the wider community helps to build a socially cohesive and harmonious society.
A welcoming and inclusive society can support the integration of resettled refugees by:
- ensuring that resettled refugees are able to access the resources they require for their integration and participation in the communities and institutions of the receiving society.
- ensuring opportunities for newcomers voice and meaningful participation in the community.
- fostering a climate of understanding and acceptance of people from refugee backgrounds, enhancing possibilities for meaningful connections with individuals and institutions in the receiving society.
Planning and supporting the development of welcoming and inclusive societies
- soliciting the support of community leaders in communities receiving refugees including existing minority/indigenous communities.
- identifying integration experts in relevant ministries.
- establishing links with local refugee support groups (voluntary and paid).
- including funds for activities to support community cohesion.
- developing a media strategy.
- developing communication materials that are targeted to specific audiences and co-produced with refugees to demystify, explain and promote resettlement.
- support to grassroots initiatives and organisations, including those initiated by the diaspora, to participate in the formulation and implementation of local inclusion policies.
- strategies to engage and build the capacity of key local constituencies to support integration (e.g. employers, trade unions, faith-based communities, local authorities).
- promoting the direct engagement of citizens and local communities, including community sponsorship programmes.
- simplified and flexible funding streams to support grassroots organizations.
- adopting strategies that promote inclusiveness, embrace diversity and foster the engagement of a broad range of actors.
- engagement of non-traditional actors at the national and local level, particularly the private sector, community-based organizations, diaspora and the media, to demonstrate the advantages of diversity and inclusiveness.
- developing quality preparedness programmes for refugees and receiving communities that are co-designed and implemented in collaboration with local authorities, refugees, diaspora and receiving communities, building upon established predeparture and cultural orientation programmes.
- strategies to counter racism and xenophobia.
- promotion and support of a positive evidence-based narrative.
- participation of resettled refugees in community decision-making groups/structures.
Factors affecting welcoming and inclusive societies
There are a number of factors that impact on the extent to which resettled refugees may feel safe and secure, on their capacity to form relationships within the receiving society, and on their interactions with key systems such as schools and social service authorities, such as:
- the extent to which there are organisations with an interest in human rights, refugee issues and democracy building (e.g. faith-based communities, human rights groups).
- the extent of support for the protection and promotion of human rights at both community and governmental levels.
- the existence of established diverse communities and their capacity to contribute to building a welcoming and inclusive environment.
- existing legislative frameworks and policies and programs for managing diversity and inclusion.
- the extent to which diversity is promoted at government and community levels.
- the extent of understanding at community and governmental levels of the reasons for resettled refugees leaving their countries-of-origin.
- attitudes toward migration and resettlement at community and governmental levels.
- the approach taken by the media in the receiving society on refugee issues.
- the extent to which the country has a tradition of making newcomers welcome.
- resettled refugees may have a heightened sensitivity to injustices in the receiving society or a fear or lack of trust of those in positions of authority (such as teachers or law enforcement officers) based on experiences in the country-of-origin.
- limited proficiency of resettled refugees in the target language.
- promote diversity as an asset to receiving societies.
- accept and embrace age, gender and diversity.
- foster inclusiveness, sense of belonging, feeling of acceptance, making roots and connections, a sense of giving and taking.
- provide opportunities to contribute to community, free of barriers.
- value cultural identity.
- ensure equitable access for newcomers to the resources of the receiving society allowing equal participation.
- promote freedom from xenophobia, racism and discrimination.
- promote an understanding of the nature and consequences of the refugee and integration experience at governmental, institutional and community levels.
- responsive to the needs, challenges and aspirations of newcomers.
Issues to consider in fostering welcoming and inclusive societies
Importance of partnership and local engagement
The integration of resettled refugees occurs at a highly localised level in the communities, workplaces and institutions of the receiving society. It is critical to engage the cooperation and involvement of key local actors, in particular:
- employers and trade unions;
- local neighbourhoods;
- faith-based communities and community groups;
- schools, sports clubs, youth organisations;
- local governments (in some countries referred to as authorities or municipalities);
- grassroot organisations and services and refugee community organizations;
- the media;
- human rights organisations; and
- health, mental health and welfare services.
Video – Australia
Managing conflicting cultural practices
Resettled refugees are encouraged to retain their culture. Nevertheless there may be instances where differences in cultural practices between resettled refugees and the wider community raise cause for concern or conflict (e.g., practice of FGM, corporal punishment). How conflicts of this nature are managed will depend both on the issue concerned and on the receiving country. Integration is a two-way process, with resettled refugees adjusting to the ways of their new country and receiving societies learning about and adjusting to the practices of refugee communities. Consistent with this notion, most receiving societies manage conflicts with a continuum of strategies, encompassing:
- educating the wider community to increase acceptance and value diversity and to accommodate the values, beliefs and practices of newcomers.
- mediation and bridge building between the refugee and wider communities.
- awareness raising and education in refugee communities.
- topical group briefings (e.g. on domestic violence, parenting, the role of the police and the law).
Initiatives to support the development of welcoming communities
Initiatives at the governmental level
Resettlement countries have implemented a number of initiatives to ensure that government services and programs are responsive to refugee and immigrant communities. Among these are:
- planning documents or strategies which reflect a formal government commitment to integration and/or cultural diversity and define the ways in which this will be implemented across government. One example is the New Scots Integration Strategy.
- advisory committees at senior government levels to assist in the planning, implementation and monitoring of integration and the acceptance of diversity. In many countries these committees include representation from refugee and immigrant communities. See for example.
- special policy and program units within government departments to ensure that the policies and activities of government are responsive to the needs of refugee and immigrant communities. In some cases, these units may also provide technical support and assistance to governmental officers involved in service delivery see, for example.
- initiatives and policies that promote diversity and inclusion to ensure that people from refugee and immigrant backgrounds are represented in the public sector work force (e.g. equal opportunity programs, internships). These demonstrate the receiving society’s commitment to the inclusion of resettled refugees (as well as providing employment opportunities and an avenue for refugees to contribute).
- legislation to promote equal opportunities or prevent discrimination.
- programmes to promote wider understanding of resettlement and global refugee issues, and the value of diversity and/or to challenge negative community attitudes toward migration and resettlement.
Engaging the wider community
In many countries, community-based groups and institutions have played an important part in fostering welcoming and inclusive communities by:
- developing awareness raising activities and strategies to combat racism and xenophobia among the wider community;
- fostering the participation of refugees in local institutions and organisations such as schools, clubs, associations and places of worship;
- ensuring that resettled refugees are represented in administrative and decision-making positions;
- volunteer opportunities for resettled refugees in the local community;
- taking measures to ensure that local institutions and organisations are responsive to resettled refugees;
- supporting cultural events such as festivals and special days (World Refugee Day, etc); and
- support for the development of volunteer programs in the community and community sponsorship programs.
Capacity building of grassroots organisationsGrassroots initiatives and organisations, including those initiated by the diaspora, also have an important role in building welcoming and inclusive societies (see, British Refugee Council. They can:
- undertake public advocacy and awareness raising activities to promote understanding of refugee communities.
- act as mediators in the event of cultural conflicts between refugee communities and the receiving society.
- support refugees to become involved in decision-making at the workplace, community and broader political levels.
- provide sociocultural advice to governments, service providers and other institutions so that they are able to respond sensitively to resettled refugees.
- support the development of programs and facilities for new arrivals to promote cultural retention and identification (e.g. support groups, cultural events, community arts projects, community centres and places of worship, targeted media).
- provide opportunities for civic participation, see for example, British Refugee Council.
- encourage meaningful participation of resettled refugees and enable their engagement in building welcoming and inclusive societies.
Receiving Community Engagement
Video – Spain
A Community comes together. Volunteers create community-based integration
Spanish charities are supporting through local sponsors the setting up of the country’s first community sponsorship programme benefiting vulnerable refugees. Volunteers welcome five Syrian families in Bilbao (Basque Country) resettled from Jordan and help them settle in different neighbourhoods. With the scar of the lost two children in the Syria war still unhealed, this programme has given Minwer’s family an opportunity to start a new live.
Working with the media
The media has a powerful role in shaping community attitudes to a range of issues surrounding refugees including integration. Civil society and service providers in a number of countries work closely with the media to enhance broader community understanding of the refugee experience and to promote a positive narrative on refugees that underscores the benefits they bring to receiving communities.
The media will be the primary source of information for refugees in the early integration period and will have a powerful influence on their perceptions of the receiving society and the extent to which they are welcome in it.
Media, community and governmental attitudes
In most societies there is a diverse range of views about refugee issues at the governmental and community levels.
When they are given practical expression in individual interactions and governmental and institutional practices or in the media, negative attitudes can make resettled refugees feel unwelcome in the receiving society.
Racism and xenophobia are a particular concern in this regard. As well as compromising the safety of refugees, racism and xenophobia may contribute to mental health problems such as anxiety and depression; affect access to integration resources (such as housing and employment); and hamper their participation in the receiving society. There are a number of factors which may contribute to indifference or hostility toward resettled refugees, and which may need to be managed by governments and others with an interest in refugee resettlement and human rights. Among these are:
- polarization around asylum and damaging narratives on refugee issues.
- a general antipathy toward migration, held in the belief that refugees and immigrants will compete for scarce resources, threaten national security or the way of life of the receiving country. This is a particular concern for those resettled refugees whose racial features or cultural and religious practices distinguish them from the dominant culture.
- perceptions that resettled refugees are offered better government support than is available to nationals.
- public confusion about who refugees are and the nature of the refugee experience.
While it is not possible to control the way in which the media covers refugee issues, those supporting integration at both governmental and community levels can:
- strengthen the capacity of both community and local journalists to report on refugee issues through the provision of accurate information.
- provide positive stories on resettled refugees to journalists and media organisations, ensuring the meaningful participation of refugees.
- develop a media strategy. See for example, Canadian Council for Refugees. This is particularly important at the governmental level. Typically this involves establishing a committee or working group of relevant government ministries and the identification of key staff to serve as media spokespeople. To ensure consistency in communication with the media, it is wise to secure agreement on key messages. Regular monitoring of the strategy will enable it to be adjusted in response to changing circumstances.
- cultivate relationships with journalists and build stakeholder relationships with media organisations.
- develop strategies to build the capacity of those in key integration roles at both the governmental and community levels to work effectively with the media (e.g. providing training, developing resource manuals).
- secure the co-operation of prominent or respected individuals to act as ‘spokespeople’ for refugee resettlement (e.g. by preparing opinion pieces on refugee resettlement for daily newspapers; participating in radio and television interviews). See for example, ICMC SHARE Network Resettlement Ambassadors.
- monitor the media to identify opportunities to promote refugee resettlement or counter erroneous views. This is an important factor to bear in mind and highlights the need for integration caseworkers to monitor media reporting on refugee issues as these may reflect negative attitudes held by some sections of the wider community, which may not only fuel anti-refugee sentiment, but also generate feelings of fear and anxiety among resettled refugees.
- approach training institutions to have refugee issues addressed in undergraduate curricula and professional development courses for journalists.
- use social media to communicate refugee issues.
- provide grants to support the development of documentaries and films addressing refugee issues.
- establish awards to recognise excellence in reporting on refugee and resettlement issues.
City of Freiburg, Germany
How does legislation contribute?
Legislation can serve as an effective deterrent, set standards for appropriate behaviour and provide avenues for recourse in the event that an individual is subject to unfair treatment. Legislation also has important symbolic value, being a practical expression of the receiving society’s commitment to the protection and promotion of equal rights and demonstrating its abhorrence of discrimination. The experience of established countries of resettlement is that legislation is more likely to be effective if complemented by community education and other initiatives. If resettled refugees are to have recourse to remedies provided by legislation, it is important that these are accessible (for example, through the simplification of procedures, translated materials, and individual support to access remedies).
Video – USA
Good practice features
A sound integration programme would:
- have an overall framework for implementing and monitoring integration and promoting diversity across society.
- have legislative frameworks in place to promote diversity and inclusion.
- have measures in place to ensure that human rights are observed.
- involve resettled refugees in the planning and monitoring and evaluation of integration and diversity programs and strategies.
- have strategies in place to engage schools, employers, trade unions, and local communities (in particular, faith-based communities and human rights organisations) in building inclusive and welcoming societies.
- have measures in place to raise community awareness and understanding of, and support for, refugee resettlement.
- have measures in place to strengthen diaspora communities and to build their capacity to provide opportunities for new arrivals to participate in cultural and religious activities and to serve as a bridge between refugee communities and the receiving society.
- offer resettled refugees permanent residence and its associated rights and responsibilities (including the right to travel) and enable them to seek citizenship at the earliest possible stage.
- solicit the support of community leaders in communities receiving refugees including existing minority/indigenous communities.