by Katie McAdam, Sona Circle
Settling into a new country can be very daunting for many refugees. Language barriers, new cultures and lack of social connections make integration a difficult process. Integration is vital not only for improving local community relationships but also for reducing the problem of social isolation among refugees.
Those who are socially isolated experience a lower quality of life and have less access to services and employment. Various initiatives, from small community groups to international projects have emerged to foster the integration of refugees. Below are five great initiatives supporting refugee integration in the UK.
1. Migrant English Project
Overcoming language barriers is one of the most effective integration methods. Refugees with adequate language skills are more likely to access services, obtain employment and be able to form social connections.
Community language groups such as the Brighton based Migrant English Project, help refugees to practice their language with locals in an informal setting. By chatting with locals, refugees acquire not only the language but social connections within the community. The volunteer’s wealth of local knowledge is also helpful to advise refugees on legal, housing and health matters.
2. Integration of Refugees Through Sport (IRTS)
Integration can take a more activity-based approach and act as a fun way for refugees to connect with their communities over a common interest. Sports initiatives such as the European wide IRTS, have been particularly popular initiatives.
IRTS helps fund various local groups to run sports clubs which connect refugees and their communities through sports such as football and table tennis. These projects improve both refugees’ mental and physical wellbeing, as refugees can keep fit whilst making new friends.
Bonding over a shared interest also allows local people to find common ground with refugees and decreases the likelihood of stigmatisation towards refugees. When integration is based on having fun with others, it feels less clinical and more like community spirit.
3. Refugee Survival Trust’s Glasgow
Befriending schemes help refugees to build deeper connections with the community on an individual level. The Glasgow based Refugee Survival Trust’s Glasgow Welcome programme matches refugees with a partner whom they meet up with to explore cultural sites in the city.
Touring local sites allows refugees to learn about the city and feel more connected to their host community. As the programme occurs fortnightly over six months, this enables refugees to develop a closer relationship with their volunteer.
4. Culture Kitchen by Culture Connect
Food-based projects are a delicious way to bring people together and is something universally enjoyed. Newcastle based Culture Connect is a volunteer-run charity which regularly hosts the community lunch programme, Culture Kitchen.
Most of the volunteers are refugees and asylum seekers who find a great sense of purpose in cooking for their communities. The scheme gives refugees the opportunity to share their culture through good food. Additionally, the lunches provide refugees with a social space to chat with locals.
5. LINK IT
Ensuring that refugees have the skills and knowledge about their adopted communities early on in the process is vital for successful integration. UN-led LINK IT focuses on relocation of Syrian refugees to the EU. LINK IT fosters integration throughout a refugee’s relocation journey in offering both pre and post-arrival assistance.
The initiative’s pre-arrival orientation provides refugees with practical information so that they have realistic expectations of life in their host nation.
After arrival, employability focused information sessions help refugees’ transition into the local workforce. This support is twofold in the community with local services such as police forces, social work and health workers are given tailored information on how they can best support refugees.
The refugee experience does not end once they have received their status from their host country.
Refugees face a process of settling into and developing their lives in a new environment. Integration with local neighbours greatly improves a refugee’s wellbeing and prospects. In order to maximise refugee potential in our communities, we need to create beneficial conditions through adequate support.