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From Congo, via Uganda, to Norway

This year, Norway has welcomed almost 1,000 quota refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo. IOM went down to Uganda to help them prepare for a life far up north.

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Imagine growing up in a place without seasons. Without ever having to put on a winter jacket or worry about your ears getting cold. Now imagine moving from this place to one of the coldest countries on the planet. You will be safe in your new country, but everything you knew, everything you held dear, will be new and unfamiliar, maybe even scary. This is the reality for many people who have come to Norway as refugees over the years, including this year.

Uganda is one of the world’s top refugee hosting countries, with close to 1.4 million refugees and asylum seekers. Around 235,000 of these people are from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), out of which 1,000 have been chosen by the Norwegian government upon the request of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) to resettle in Norway this year. Before travelling to Norway, IOM Norway gives them a pre-departure course, on behalf of and in collaboration with the Norwegian Directorate of Integration and Diversity (IMDi). The course goes through Norwegian history, geography and culture, and is designed to make the refugees better prepared for a life in Norway, and to minimise the culture shock that surely will arise from moving to a very foreign place.

Living in a refugee camp in rural Uganda, or in an urban setting in a bustling city like the capital Kampala, is a long way from how one will live in Norway. When you move to Norway as a refugee, you can be resettled anywhere in the country. Often this entails moving to a small, quiet village in the far north, a long way from a city. There is no denying the beauty, serenity and opportunities for adventures in the outdoors, but if you arrive from 30°C and sunny skies, you are bound to get a bit of a shock when you land. However, the point of resettlement in the international refugee system is not to move people to where the weather is the most favourable, but to a place where people can live safely and where they have a chance to grow and prosper.

In Norway one needs thick clothes with many layers in winter.

When asked what the refugees know about Norway before commencing the week of the cultural orientation training, many highlighted that it is a “peaceful country”, that “respect refugees and treat them well”, where it is possible to get “good medical treatment” and where “democracy exists”. After being shown an introductory video about Norway, many also found it interesting that “babies are in strollers, not tied to the mother’s backs”, “people of many religions live in Norway” and that it is “important to wear many layers of clothing in winter.” All of which is true.

Most of the people we met and trained in Uganda were families, with children ranging from infants to late teenagers. The information we give during the one week long cultural orientation course is tailor made to the different age and language groups. There is a group for adults, a group for older teenagers, and a group for children aged 8-12. The classes are taught by a cross-cultural facilitator from the same linguistic and/or cultural background, who has come to Norway and gone through the same integration process the refugees will be going through, including the process of a finding a job. The facilitator may therefore be both a teacher and a positive role-model and source of inspiration for the refugees.

In Norway, the society is by and large very organised. Public transport is clean, on time and efficient, schools have adequate resources to teach the children, and it is affordable to go to the doctor or hospital. Likewise, employment is regulated, with a lot of professions needing a formal qualification and proficiency in the Norwegian language in order to practice. Learning the language and getting a job was the main concern for life in Norway for most of the adult participants during the course. They told us that they wish want to complete the introduction programme for refugees and enter into the workforce as soon as possible in order to start contributing to society.

The people we met and trained in Uganda, as they do in all the countries we have cultural orientation courses, impressed us with their motivation and drive to do create a good life in Norway. This is particularly apparent among the youth, whose ambitions for the future are sky high. “I want to be a lawyer and an engineer,” said 18-year-old Laila (pictured). We pointed out that this will take a long time to accomplish. “Yes,” she answered, “but if I work hard I will achieve it”.

Throughout the course, we teach the refugees about the opportunities in Norway, but also about challenges they are likely to encounter. The weather was a common worry, but there were also concerns about how to make friends with Norwegians and how to find a job. Through highly participatory and inclusive role play and methods, we address these and many other concerns one by one. Joining an organisation or sports club and playing an active part in the local community through “dugnad” (working bee), are examples of good ways to meet people.

There are many things that may be unfamiliar and seem strange in Norway. However, our cultural orientation course gives an unbiased and realistic introduction to life in Norway. At the end of the course, people are excited about moving to a place where women and girls have the same opportunity as men, and children and LGBTI people have strong rights.

At the end of the course, we hold a formal ceremony where the refugees are presented with a diploma. Ms Zenia Chrysostomidis, Minister Counsellor and Deputy Head of Mission at the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Kampala, held a moving speech where she drew on her own experiences. Her father had arrived in Norway as a refugee from Greece many decades ago, and she therefore knew very well about the challenges a refugee faces. She encouraged the people to work hard at learning the language, a pre-requisite to a successful life in Norway. After the ceremony, 18-year-old Laila came up to Ms Chrysostomidis. “I have heard so much this week about how women hold positions of power in Norway, and that girls and women have the same rights as men. But it is really now that I met you that I understand it. I can’t wait to move to Norway!” said Laila, and gave the Minister Counsellor a big hug.

After delivering a moving speech, Minister Counsellor and Deputy Head of Mission Zenia Chrysostomidis handed out diplomas for completing the cultural orientation training.

To learn more about IOM's work on migrant training, go to:

Migrant training and integration

From Homs to Flatanger

Preparing Refugees for Norway article

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International Organization for Migration (IOM)

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