Together Here

The word displacement, like the word migration, although descriptive fails to capture what such a situation means for those who are displaced.

In our recent Expert Meeting: The Home and Displaced People, a major theme was the “make or break” role of the communities receiving the displaced. The people for whom the new unfamiliar place for migrants is their old familiar place: their home.

The question was put, how do you help someone feel at home? Not necessarily a migrant or refugee but anyone you want to feel “at home” with you. This is a subjective and complex question, of course, but some key thoughts emerged: being treated as a permanent guest does not make a person feel at home; being left alone with only people who are also new does not promote integration; not having access to the language of the new place makes it harder to feel a part of the new place.

These three insights have clear policy implications in terms of work, housing and education, but they also prompt us to look at the simple human responses of welcome and being a neighbour.

This is certainly what motivates those who are a part of Samen Hier (Together Here) in the Netherlands. Samen Hier is a community-based programme where “Welcome Groups” of five Dutch people make a connection with a newly arrived individual or family to their neighbourhood for a year.

Five points of contact means that the newcomers have a range of expertise and experience to draw on. It also means that contact responsibility does not just rest on one set of welcomers’ shoulders.  *A policy maker notes, ““I work a lot with new Dutch people and what strikes me again and again is that every newcomer longs for contact with the Dutch, but that it is very difficult to do.”  A newcomer agrees, “It is really difficult, a new country, new information, a new language…. Social networks can be so useful. For example, I found my current job via an employee at the primary school of the daughter of my friend’s neighbour!” Samen Hier helps to make it possible.

The benefits are not all one way. Newcomers offer their own hospitality, and by being made to feel a part of the new community are quick to share their own time and skills to make more thriving and integrated neighbourhoods.

The model for matching welcomers with newcomers, which was pioneered in Canada, is seen as an initiative which can become the basis for sustainable Dutch migration and integration policy. Although the programme has big aims and a strong international academic research base, its success is built on people being there for other people. National and local governments need to provide the policy frameworks and the funding for integration, but to feel at home it needs a person – or five people – to open the door.

*Material taken from The Hague Online –see link.