“We assist refugees and the displaced, protect their rights and empower them towards a better future”, proclaims the mission statement of the Danish Refugee Council (DRC) (Danish Refugee Council, 2019a). The DRC is a humanitarian, non-governmental, non-profit organisation, providing support to refugees and asylum seekers in Denmark. Its approach to supporting these vulnerable people provides valuable insights, and potentially replicable social protection tools, for catering to humanitarian contexts. In particular, its community driven professional training and social integration services, which cater to some of the most pressing demands of displaced people.
The challenges facing refugees and asylum seekers are becoming increasingly pertinent, as the world faces mounting environmental and conflict related crises, inducing mass migration. Accordingly, there is a recognition among state and humanitarian actors of the need to collaborate in providing long term, sustainable social protection. The role of social and economic integration into society for a prosperous livelihood cannot be understated here. This blog therefore presents a brief overview of the work of the DRC as a potential replicable approach to social protection in similar contexts.
The Danish Refugee Council
As Denmark’s biggest humanitarian player (Dansk Flygtningehjælp, 2019), the DRC was originally founded in the mid-1950s as a temporary cooperation of nine Danish humanitarian actors in the reaction to the Hungarian Uprisings (NGO Adviser, 2019). It has since grown to become an international organisation operating in more than 30 countries around the world, including its own country of origin.
In Denmark, the DRC assists refugees in all aspects of integration as well as asylum procedures. Internationally, the DRC actively participates in supporting the protection of refugees, and promoting durable solutions for conflict-affected populations (DRC, n.d).
The work of the DRC in Denmark
In Denmark, the DRC and its different divisions offer free professional support for refugees and asylum seekers through a range of activities:
- Danish language classes on-site and online via the “Læredansk” language centre (Læredansk, 2019)
- Via “Toleservice” more than 700 qualified interpreters are available for assisting in official meetings or written translations in 65 languages (Tolkeservice, 2019)
- Free counselling on asylum questions (Dansk Flygtningehjælp, 2019b)
- The “Integrationsnet” (integration net) supports communities managing their integration work (Integrationsnet, 2019)
- The “Center for Udsatte Flygtninge” (Centre for Vulnerable Refugees) is a platform for sharing knowledge around working with refugees and in particular in helping in work on traumatised refugees, both for professionals working in this area as well as refugees (Center for Udsatte Flygtninge, 2019)
These courses, projects and platforms provide a form of community driven social protection via labour market interventions, preparing refugees for their work and educational life in Denmark. This is complemented by the work of various other stakeholders involved in integration work.
Community driven social protection
The DRC has involved volunteers in its local refugee integration work since 1999 – today, more than 8,000 volunteers provide support to around 30,000 refugees. They help with many social protection related issues such as language classes for better integration into social life and the job market, whilst giving a nice welcome to the Danish society and kick-starting the integration process immediately (Frivilligafdelingen Dansk Flygtningehjælp, 2019a).
Volunteers are responsible for promoting social activities to boost integration such as cooking events and joint excursions for adults and kids, as well as support with homework and provision of free Danish language classes. Besides ad-hoc activities, Danes and refugees can also connect in the form of ‘network families’, which can be seen as first contact for everyday problems and questions, forming a tighter bond between the individuals involved; mentorships, focused on counselling refugees to help them reaching their goals in job or education; and free support by professionals in questions around integration law, social rules or trauma (Frivilligafdelingen Dansk Flygtningehjælp, 2019a).
Since 2008, the DRC’s youth division “DFUNK – Dansk Flygtningehjælp Ungdom” organises debate clubs, film screenings, school visits and debates, photo-workshops, summer camps, storytelling shows, sport events and a mass of other activities for young Danes and refugees and asylum seekers of the same age (DFUNK 2019a). It is driven by the youth members that can develop, plan and execute their own ideas in coordination with the project leaders and administration of DFUNK and exists in various places all over the country (DFUNK 2019b).
A replicable approach
The DRC’s direct engagement in Denmark relies mostly on volunteers when providing support to newly arrived refugees. Therefore, the assistance provided is not a formal state funded labour market intervention or social assistance programme. It allows refugees in Denmark to arrive in the country and be integrated quickly into society and the labour market. Assistance with basic needs, social contacts and the first introduction to the Danish language, the society and its rules are provided.
Although a formal social protection system that caters refugees and asylum seekers is not in place, this approach provides crucial support and fosters trust in the host country, which paves the way for successful integration into the country. Like a social protection programme, it supports individuals when they are most vulnerable and protects them from falling into further crisis. It also brings Danes and refugees closer together on a personal level, thanks to the voluntary community-based component, which bridges social, cultural and economic boundaries.
The experience of Denmark provides many lessons that could be integrated into social protection initiatives targeting refugees and asylum seekers in other countries. What’s more, the recognition of vertical or horizontal expansion of social protection programmes in times of humanitarian shock and crisis implies that the approach of Denmark could be integrated into existing social protection systems when the demand emerges. It offers a cost-effective and community centred approach to protecting people who are experiencing challenges that will likely occur ever more frequently as countries increasingly encounter climate relate shocks and crisis, as well as conflicts, inducing the migration of people seeking refuge.
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Danish Demining Group (2019). About Danish Demining Group. Accessible: https://danishdemininggroup.dk/danish-demining-group . Accessed June 28, 2019.
Danish Refugee Council (2019a). Mission and Vision. Accessible: https://drc.ngo/about-drc/mission-and-vision. Accessed June 28, 2019.
Danish Refugee Council (2019b). Diaspora Programme. Accessible: https://drc.ngo/relief-work/diaspora-programme . Accessed June 28, 2019.
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NGO Adviser (2019). Danish Refugee Council. Accessible: https://www.ngoadvisor.net/ong/danish-refugee-council. Accessed June 28, 2019.
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