Integration and Social Capital
Exploring the benefits of refugee integration through sharing hobbies, interests and networks – (2017, Blended Mosaics, London)

Introduction

We wanted to research what was needed for beneficial integration of refugees into host communities and how best to go about it. The research we conducted was both theoretical but also based on examples. What our research has shown is that communal activities in host countries are vital for sustainable societal integration of refugees facilitating them in rebuilding their social networks.  

Integration contributes towards their well-being, allowing them to have social capital through friendships and genuine feelings of belonging. People seeking refuge frequently face arduous and life threatening journeys to reach safety. It is important to help those who have come to host countries by reaching out to them and making the friendship making experience easier and more natural. Many refugees have lost their agency and are followed by the traumas of their experiences; however host communities can help refugees by providing a mutual support network through events and also by seeing them as potential friends not as temporary guests. The sections below highlight our research and our key findings.

Knowing the basics about the theory of integration and social networks is important because it gives us a framework and a language that we can use to discuss our research. Integration is essential for both the host communities and the newly arrived refugees. It offers the host community a chance to expand their community and share their interests and it encourages the mental and social wellbeing of refugees. Theories on integration and social and network capital have been especially useful in providing specific tailored needs to refugees entering host countries.

What is needed to establish these friendships and networks is social capital. Social capital, according to Bourdieu and Wacquant is the total intangible resources that facilitate the network of individuals or groups. (cited in Palloni et al., 2001). Douglas Massey, a renowned sociologist, argues that the connections forced migrants establish facilitate their journey as well as their well-being (ibid. 2001). By encouraging and facilitating the creation of social networks and social capital, integration that is beneficial for both the host community and refugees can be achieved. Many of the theories have influenced government policy but they are also really helpful for NGOs and other social organisations involved with providing for newly settled refugees.

According to Ager and Strang (2008), “integration is a long-term two-way process of change” it relates to the participation of refugees in all aspects of life and their sense of belonging in the host countries.

Communal activities, utilize and promote social capital, which in turn aids integration as well as the wellbeing of newly arrived refugees. According to our interviews, organisations involved in providing social and welfare assistance to refugees, it is hard for refugees to socially integrate. The interviews also highlighted that the work of these organisations is essential for the welfare of refugees and that their role as social facilitator is highly needed. Additionally, another survey conducted by ourselves suggests that most of the host community members in London as well as newly arrived refugees are commonly interested in building up a friendship with new people.

We have analyzed various cases in which social activities were successfully established and carried out. These activities clearly represent how the host community and refugees have come together which has helped the social welfare of refugees.

The case of the Scottish government clearly shows the success of refugee integration in a way of developing social connections and community relations. The government has actively supported the friendship making venues such as churches and mosques; and encouraged the creation of social activity groups to help refugees feel comfortable in their new neighborhoods. A government report has shown that events like the Refugee Week organized help create social connections and encourage friendly community relations (Scottish Government, 2013). In this example, the Scottish government has become a role model for other countries to follow due to their active support of refugee integration.

The second case uses the example of African humanitarian migrants in Logan City in Australia. In these areas, the local communities created community food gardens to provide a space for people to come together as well as support nutrition and health for refugees. These activities have not only improved the health conditions of refugees, but also contributed to “leisure, crime prevention, healing therapies, and ecological restoration.” (Harris, Minniss, and Somerset, 2014, p. 9204). The community gardens were also used as a venue for friend making and establishing community relations. According to Harris, Minniss and Somerset, such communal activities were successful in improving “migrant connectedness with their new country” (Harris, Minniss, and Somerset, 2014, p. 9204).

By having explored these cases, it seems clear that communal activities such as friend making, food sharing, hobby sharing and social events are likely to contribute to enhancing the social capital of refugees and improving their social and mental wellbeing. These activities will ultimately promote social integration and foster understanding between the host community and refugees (Jacobsen, 2014).

Conclusion

Our research article has tried to briefly highlight the need for social welfare projects that engage with the topic of integration by building upon social capital through friend and hobby sharing events. The research and examples shared above clearly show the need for the work that we are involved in. Not only are these events great for the wellbeing of refugees but they can also help create an environment of tolerance. If both the host community and refugees are involved in sharing activities and creating new friendship networks, there will be more understanding and less Xenophobia.  We hope that this research has shown is that improved social capital will ultimately allow refugees to rebuild their lives in their new homes and create a sustainable friend-making environment.