UNHCR and civil society organizations shared experiences on integration and inclusion of refugees during the online integration conference, Week of Neighbors.
© UNHCR/Johan Bävman
“After a long journey, we had a house, but an empty house with only walls, doors, windows. We were in a new country with a new culture, a new language and new environment. First time we met En Utsträckt Hand, they surprised us. They had decorated the cold and empty house and even gave us toys for our children. You can imagine what it means for small children.”
This is how Ahmet, a refugee in Sweden, describes his first meeting with the civil society organization En Utsträckt Hand (A Helping Hand) in Täby and Danderyd municipalities, Sweden.
When refugees arrive in a new country, another journey lies ahead – getting to know the host community and the local language and customs. At the same time, the host community is receiving new neighbors from places that may seem far away, geographically and culturally.
To make sure that integration becomes a two-way process, both the host community members and the refugees themselves need to be equally included and involved. For UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, a fundamental part of the approach is participation, ensuring that refugees and the host communities are involved in the decisions and activities that affect their lives.
Participation was also the topic, when UNHCR hosted an online knowledge-sharing seminar during the Week of Neighbors conference in February 2022 in Sweden.
The seminar was facilitated by Integration Officer Karolis Žibas and Senior Durable Solutions Associate Erika Löfgren from UNHCR’s Representation for the Nordic and Baltic Countries. The event brought together three organizations who shared their experiences with different approaches to inclusion of refugees in their host communities: the Arts agency ARTSCAPE from Lithuania, the Community Sponsorship Program for Refugees in Lismore, Ireland, and En Utsträckt Hand from Sweden.
“The event shows that integration is a two-way process in which refugees are not seen as beneficiaries of services, but as active members of the local communities. It is the essence of an inclusive and cohesive society, which is so much needed to commit to solidarity with those fleeing war and conflicts,” says Karolis Žibas, Integration Officer at UNHCR’s Representation for the Nordic and Baltic Countries.
“We are so happy to see the incredible commitment and engagement of civil society, grassroots movement and volunteers in integration work,” he adds.
Watch the seminar and learn more about the approaches to involve refugees in the integration process here.
About the participants: