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I want to talk about an African woman, a single mother, who has five children and had never set foot outside of her small village until she was forced to flee as a refugee. The humanitarian crisis that gripped her home included all the horrors that are too common to refugees around the world.

SSI CEO Violet RoumeliotisSSI CEO Violet Roumeliotis.

When this woman and her children were rescued and resettled in a safe country, they were eternally grateful for their new-found safety. They began to learn the new language, and new culture. They went to weekly language classes, funded entirely by their new home state. The woman and children were provided support services to help them overcome the trauma they had experienced and health conditions that resulted from their experiences. 

The woman’s children started attending school for the first time and took on all the challenges that presents. The woman found work and became an active member of the local community. Her neighbours and wider community members speak highly of her and her children and feel proud they were able to support them to get back on their feet.

This was a real case study example of how the Norwegian settlement model works, as it was presented to me and representatives of other NGOs at a settlement conference in Oslo last month. This example, which is repeated in thousands of individual cases in Norway, is the outcome all people from refugee backgrounds aspire to, and that all people working in the sector hope for.

Successful resettlement is not unique to Norway. It is the norm in Australia and other developed countries as well. It’s well known that many aspects of Australia’s humanitarian settlement program are world-leading. But what is remarkable about the Norwegian model is the level of institutional support provided to refugees and how that translates in to positive social outcomes.

Norway is comprised of more than 400 municipalities, or local governments, that are funded by the national government to support refugees living within their boundaries for five years to allow them to establish themselves in the society. Each adult is funded with about €90,000 (AU$130,820) and each child about €83,000 (AU$121,570). That pays for education, health, living and all other costs.

Because education is paid for, refugees can bridge their qualifications, if they have any, to be recognised in Norway. Engineers from Iran and Iraq can work as engineers in Norway, for example. People dealing with post-traumatic stress syndrome are counselled. Other health needs are taken care of. NGOs provide “buddies” to accompany refugees and help them navigate the new culture. They take them hiking through the snow, as Norwegians do! A course to educate people about living and working in Norway is compulsory.

It is an imperative across all of government that they take the responsibility to care for and support refugees when they arrive in Norway. This support is mainstream, rather than specialist services for refugees. They understand they have a diverse population and need to respond to that.

As a result, people from refugee backgrounds are able to fully integrate in to the society, find work, make friends and participate in the general community. In turn, there is much good will towards refugees from the population.

There is a lot to take from the Norwegian model. While the support program is funded for five years in Norway, in Australia our Humanitarian Support Service for refugees generally lasts six to 12 months. Humanitarian entrants then receive basic support from welfare organisations, such as the Red Cross if they need it. Of course, Norway is a socialist economic system so it has a welfare state that is more encompassing than in Australia. And Australia’s humanitarian program is much larger than Norway’s, which makes sense given our country is much larger geographically, by economy and by population size.

Norway is currently engaged in a healthy debate about increasing its humanitarian intake quota by 10,000 people.

What we can learn from the Norwegian model is that there is a reciprocal flow to all of society that comes from genuine, institutionalised support. By giving people from refugee backgrounds the support and time to properly learn about and integrate in to the new society that is their new home, those people become assets to that society. And the society is buoyed by the positive contribution it has made to the lives of other people. 

 

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