In person: Pavel’s successful integration in Lithuania

Pavel, a 45-year-old refugee in Lithuania, escaped from Belarus when the government suppression of opposition activists intensified in 2010. He arrived in Lithuania with the hope, like many Lithuanians who fled their country in the 1940s, that his flight was only a temporary solution and he would soon go back home. Unfortunately, even after 5 years, returning to Belarus is still not an option for Pavel. His life continues in Lithuania away from his beloved family and friends.

03 September 2015, by Renata Kules, UNHCR Vilnius

Raised in a family of a Ukrainian mother from Crimea and a Belarusian father from Minsk, Pavel continues the family tradition of working in the construction business. He misses his family back in Belarus. He is happy when his 10-year-old son and his 73-year-old mother visit him during his son’s school holidays, about four times a year.

“Everybody dreams of returning back home and I dream to wake up in my bed at my home in Minsk one day, but for the time being it is far from reality,’’ Pavel said. “I am just 178 kilometres from my home, but I was unable to attend my father’s funeral or be together with my son on his first day at school.”

Pavel’s business back in Belarus was confiscated by the authorities. One of his friends was sent to prison and others fled abroad. Supported by friends, Pavel arrived in Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital, and he soon started his construction business. Today he is a successful businessman with wide professional and private networks that supply construction equipment to Belarus with a Lithuanian trade company. He also studies technology at Mykolas Romeris University. However, despite his successful social integration, the Lithuanian language is still a challenge for him to overcome in the future.

Lithuania is reviewing its refugee integration support. In 2013 a Participatory Assessment on refugee integration opportunities and challenges in Lithuania was undertaken by a multi-functional team that included representatives from the UNHCR, the Ministry of Social Security and Labour, the Lithuanian Red Cross Society and Caritas Vilnius. The team met with 68 refugees of a variety of ages, genders, nationalities and backgrounds living in the Rukla Refugee Reception Centre, Jonava, Kaunas and Vilnius, to hear how they had experienced the process of rebuilding their lives in Lithuania. The assessment’s report outlines a number of areas that are critical for refugees’ ability to integrate, such as initial reception at arrival in the country, treatment during the asylum procedure, language learning, employment, housing and social integration and non-discrimination. The refugees have generously shared their experiences of integrating within each of these areas and made some suggestions on how the integration program in Lithuania could be made more effective. The report contains examples of practical integration tools and projects implemented by other European countries, mainly in Northern Europe, that can serve as an inspiration for the Lithuanian authorities and organizations working with refugee integration.

Pavel is one of the world’s 60 million forcibly displaced people and one of around a thousand refugees granted protection in Lithuania. Unlike so many other refugees, Pavel already had friends in Lithuania who helped him to get started when he arrived. In addition, many of refugees have useful skills, knowledge and experience from their home countries and are committed to contributing as productive residents and tax-payers. Empowering refugees and providing them timely and relevant support in the beginning is the key to successful and durable integration in Lithuania and elsewhere.