Friends Show the Way (Venner Viser Vej) (Unofficial translation)
Type of Information
The Danish Red Cross and the Danish Refugee Council
Mads T. Vestergaard (Login to send email)
Contact Person Function
Evidence has shown that personal friendships and voluntary support are crucial for the integration of refugees. With this in mind, the Danish Red Cross and the Danish Refugee Council are running a project in collaboration with municipalities, language schools and social housing administrators with the goal of matching local volunteers or families with refugees – both newcomers and those who have been in the country for some time, to support them in their life in Denmark.
Photo: ©Venner Viser Vej project
The long-term goal is to increase employment and boost social participation among refugees, as well as to build networks improving the wellbeing of refugees, individuals and families.
Issue/Challenge and Goal/Assumption
The project rests on the premise that, for refugees, establishing contacts with local residents should not be a question of luck but a guaranteed part of their integration.
In Denmark, newly-recognised refugees are accommodated evenly across the country, with local municipalities overseeing the integration efforts, mainly financed by the state. Social workers help refugees to be admitted to language schools, to seek jobs and accommodation. But refugees face many questions and challenges – from reading local bus itineraries, through handling correspondence with the authorities, to understanding the way the society functions in general. Social workers do not have the time to answer all these questions. Instead, volunteers can help with these matters, also contributing something special – friendship and trust.
With their vast experience in working with refugees, both the Danish Red Cross and the Danish Refugee Council have both well-established voluntary networks all over the country. In 2016, through launching the Venner Viser Vej project, the Danish Red Cross took the initiative to optimise the work of these voluntary networks, together with the Danish Refugee Council and local municipalities.
The volunteers provide support in various ways. Refugees can benefit, for example, from the volunteers’ social and professional networks and understanding of job application processes and work culture. The volunteers also help migrants practice their Danish language, and help them become more active within the local society - for instance, through involving them in sports or helping them to become a volunteer themselves.
How does it work
In the first project period, spanning from 2016 to 2018, the target group of the project was exclusively newcomers, as this coincided with the steep increase in the number of refugees arriving in 2015. Over the second project period, which started in 2019 and continues until 2022, the initiative has become an equal partnership between the two organisations with a widened scope to also include refugees who have been living in Denmark for a longer period of time and who are in need of support to strengthen their employment situation or take a more active part in Danish society.
Municipalities, volunteer and refugee: what are their roles and how can they help each other?
It's important that the collaboration works on all levels: the volunteers need to know when new refugees arrive to the area, and municipalities need to know where to refer the new refugees in order to match them with a volunteer friend.
In some municipalities, such collaborations were already established years ago, whereas in others they had to be built from scratch.
In order to reach a the new, wider target group, the project is busy establishing itself in social housing areas across the country. Here, new types of collaboration with non-municipal partners aim at gaining access to residents that fall within the target group.
Information materials and training
The project has produced a video as well as written materials sharing municipal experience, as well as videos following the work of a volunteer and a refugee. The project also produced videos and leaflets in five languages, meant to attract new volunteers and refugees, as well as to provide inspiration and advice on how to approach and strengthen such intercultural relationships. Those interested can participate either as an individual or as a family.
It is also possible to organise an introductory meeting, during which a consultant from the project would provide more information to the interested parties. To hold such meeting, it is required to gather at least 15 people and find a location.
Finally, a key element of the project is the training of volunteers during which the are equipped with practical tips and new perspectives in order to be better able to establish good relationship with the refugees. Several free courses, as well as workshops involving both refugees and volunteers – are offered free of charge.
Photo: ©Venner Viser Vej project
The project has received very positive evaluations - see the numbers below.
In general, the personal meetings and the creation of solid relationships between the refugees and volunteers make a notable improvement in integration outcomes. This is especially obvious in terms of practical matters such as finding one's way around in a foreign society or using a new language in everyday life, as well when it comes to understanding societal norms, behaviour and culture.
Notably, this last part works both ways: the refugee needs to learn about Danish culture and the Danish people, but volunteers also learn about the experiences of refugees and their different cultures. Arguably, the biggest benefit may also be the lasting friendships
In March 2019, the first three-year project period (2016 - 2018) was evaluated by LG Insight. At this time, 91 out of 98 Danish municipalities were part of the project, and 7 173 refugees all over the country had a volunteer friend through Danish Red Cross or Danish Refugee Council.
Refugees themselves emphasised the importance of speaking Danish outside the classroom and understanding Danish culture better, with others noting being matched with a volunteer helped them escape feelings of loneliness.
Other key findings include:
- 91 percent of the refugees note that having been matched with volunteers benefits their social integration;
- 56 percent of refugees note having a volunteer friend helped them find employment;
- 85 percent of the participating municipalities said the refugees improved their Danish language skills;
- 96 percent of the municipalities value and would continue being part of the project, even though the number of new refugees coming to Denmark is decreasing.
See the full report in the attachment.
The current project period (2019 - 2022) is being evaluated by Als Research, with a a mid-term report is due in 2021.
Who will benefit?
By the end of 2019, close to 7 200 refugees have benefitted from the personalised integration support.
In addition to the immediate target groups, volunteers acquire a better understanding of refugees and foreign cultures. The organisational partners benefit from being able to delegate some of their work to volunteers - such as tasks revolving around providing information on the local level, and liaising between refugees and local authorities.
Source of funding and Resources used
The project is financed by the Ministry of Foreigners and Integration. It has not yet been decided how it will be financed after 2022.
The annual budget is four million DKR per year, or 16 million DKR in total, or over 2.1 million EUR.
The estimated expenses over the whole period include:
- Salaries for project management, consultants supporting the volunteers and developing courses, etc.: 13 million DKR
- Transport: 500 000 DKR
- Activities to develop competences for volunteers and refugees: 800 000 DKR
- Information and communication: 200 000 DKR
- Other expenses: 500 000 DKR
The two organisations add supplementary financing to the project from their own running budgets.