In the new "Road to Community" series, Swedish Press uncovers the landscape of refugee integration into Swedish society by exploring governmental policies, non-governmental initiatives, and revealing individual stories.
Here is the first story in the series on "Flyktingguide Göteborg" by Caitlyn Lee
With the ongoing influx of refugees and migrants into Sweden, various integration initiatives have been developed to serve as a meeting point for Swedes and newcomers. Flyktingguide Göteborg, which translates to Refugee Guide Gothenburg, is one such program. Swedish Press was invited to the Flyktingguide Yule Fest in December, where I had the opportunity to learn more about the program. Through the celebration, I gained a positive perspective on this initiative being born of the chaotic migration situation in Sweden.
After being established in 2003 by Lahdo Bulun as a European Union sponsored project, Flyktingguide Göteborg expanded into a permanent municipally funded program in 2008. Historically, it has had a membership majority of Swedish newcomers, but in the last few months, the program has gained roughly 1000 new local Swedish participants, with that number continuing to grow steadily. The main objective of the program is to match newcomers to Sweden with native Swedes to facilitate new friendships. To request a match, individuals or families can complete an application outlining their interests and expectations. Members must have a valid residence permit and a sufficient level of Swedish to apply. The staff, comprised of three full-time and eight part-time members, process the applications and select compatible pairs. After a match has been made, Flyktingguide coordinates an informal meeting between the partners. Together they decide when to meet again and how to continue building their friendship.
Flyktingguide also hosts free events every month, which allow people to meet in a welcoming and accepting space. These events range from opera visits, soccer matches, concerts, and theatre shows. Most events are in partnership with other local organizations and are very popular among the participants. In addition, the program offers free study circles, which give members the opportunity to learn something new while connecting with others. The study circles include lessons in singing, swimming, cooking, and even city cycling! It is refreshing to see local organizations working together to create welcoming social integration environments for everyone.
The program is municipally funded; however, the budget for social integration is usually secondary to that of economic integration. Since Flyktingguide is growing steadily, it will be interesting to see what resources it, and other social fusion programs, will be allocated in the coming years. “I think [Swedes] are … motivated but they just don’t know how or where to direct their motivation,” Lotta Duse speaking about how Swedes approach the integration process on an individual level. Unfortunately, the current city planning of Gothenburg does not encourage a healthy integration between refugees and local Swedes; newcomers typically live in surrounding areas and local Swedes primarily live in the centre. After attending the Flyktingguide event, I felt like real and constructive progress was being made towards improving the likelihood of interaction between the two. It provided an alternative perspective to the news we see every day. I am extremely impressed by the work that Flyktingguide is doing and I hope this trend continues to bring willingness to integration in Gothenburg.
Photos: © Lotta Duse