Disabled Refugees Welcome mid-project report

Disabled Refugees Welcome (DRW) is a three year project (September 2017 – August 2020), run by the Independent Living Institute and financed by the Swedish Inheritance Fund, Arvsfonden. Arvsfonden is a national fund that administers money for projects targeting children, young people and disabled people.

The purpose of the DRW project is to create new methods which will facilitate a better reception process and more accessible integration and politics for disabled migrants and newcomers. DRW works towards an inclusive society with a mutual integration process that guarantees equal opportunities for everyone regardless functional ability or number of years residing in Sweden. DRW is grounded on the Independent Living principles.

Through the implementation of the project activities and plan of action, DRW documents needs, wishes and solutions from the target group in order to develop new activities and methods which can be incorporated in the work of the Swedish authorities, organisations and institutions working with migrants.

How it started

The idea of the project was born as a result of project worker Julius Ntobuah’s own experiences as an asylum seeker with disability in Sweden. Coming to Sweden, Julius percieved that Sweden had the adequate infrastructure in order to enable him to integrate in the society on equal terms, but met the opposite. He met a lack of knowledge and poor attitudes within the Swedish Migration Agency, social and integration workers, poor accessibility on housing, etc.  During the asylum process Julius encountered plenty of obstacles that needed to be solved without accessible information on how to go about the processes. Julius sought support from the Independent Living movement which he had met through his work in the disability field already in his home country Cameroun. His experience gave birth to the project idea, and now Julius is working with DRW for a better reception of newcomers and migrants with norm breaking functional abilities.

Challenges

DRW meets people who have difficult experiences behind them, not only from their previous countries of residence and from their journey to Sweden, but also from their reception in Sweden and by Swedish authorities. Disabilities can in some cultures be considered a result of the individual’s or parents’ past behavior, with implications for the social status of the person and the family. To openly seek support for a disabled family member is not always done without hesitation, which complicates the work of DRW. These are a few reasons why participants have a distrust that has to be overcome. One way of countering distrust has been to recruit project workers who are themselves disabled asylum seekers or migrants. Another way is through working closely with people and non european organizations based in Sweden, organizations that already have the asylum seekers’ or migrants’ trust.

Group meetings for exchanging experience and mutual support require trust between the participants. Given the many different backgrounds of asylum seekers and migrants in terms of ethnicity, culture, gender, age and religion, DRW meets contradictions within the group. Within certain countries, there are groups that have strong conflicts between one another. DRW is learning to navigate between the groups and to keep the groups interested in the work of  DRW.

Participating in group meetings require transport possibilities, which often are lacking or inaccessible, as well as social services needed for the physical support many require.  

Project results

With the past year and a half behind, DRW has a picture of the present situation from the interviews with the target group. DRW has met about 70 people from the target group in person or via telephone and has interviewed about 40 persons. The results show some things which are positive and working in the integration process, and things that are negative and not working.

Positive in the integration process when asylum seeker

  • Accessing some of the system
  • Accessing certain social security benefits
  • Being met with some social efforts for the provision of basic needs
  • Getting in contact with the Employment Service

Negative in the integration process when asylum seeker

  • Meeting the lack of knowledge regarding the intersection between norm breaking functionality and migration issues
  • The lack of accommodation (access and availability)
  • Not accessing personal assistance
  • Not getting SFI training (Swedish for migrants)
  • Not accessing transportation services
  • Not accessing medical certificates
  • Not accessing information in understandable format
  • Meeting the lack of social efforts and activities for the target group
  • Not accessing healthcare
  • Not accessing rehabilitation
  • Meeting the lack of competence on cultural differences among others with curators and
  • interpreters
  • Not accessing psychiatric care
  • Meeting poor attitudes and poor reception

To better the situation, DRW has developed and is spreading a list of demands to relevant actors:

Disabled Refugees Welcome’s list of demands   

  • Increased participation of migrants with non-normative abilities on issues connected to health, employment, education, family, migration policy/politics of establishment, accommodation and transport.
  • Commitment from the Swedish Migration Agency and the municipalities to create a common framework following the UNHCR’s Resettlement Assessment Tool: Refugees with Disabilities.
  • Access to adapted Swedish language education and vocational programs of high quality for disabled migrants and newcomers.
  • Coherent cooperation from a rights-based disability perspective between the Swedish migration Agency, Swedish Public Employment Service, Swedish Social Insurance Agency, social services, municipalities and health and medical services.
  • A rights-based disability perspective to all new regulations, policies and decisions that concern migrants living in Sweden.
  • The establishment program should have health enhancing and rights-based disability perspective as its basis.
  • Extend the 2-year establishment period for migrants with non-normative abilities.
  • Secure, accessible accommodations for migrants with non-normative abilities.
  • Accessible and coherent information and directions concerning among other things family reunification, health examinations and rulings/notifications for migrants with non-normative abilities throughout the asylum process.
  • Accessible information and directions within support and service application systems for migrants with non-normative abilities.
  • Asylum seekers with norm breaking functionality shall have the right to support and service during the asylum process and possible repatriation.
  • Competence development on the rights-based disability perspective, personal treatment and cultural differences for more staff at the Swedish Migration Agency, everyone from case officers to coordinators for the Migration Agency’s accommodation centers should be trained.
  • Guidelines on how coordinators for the Migration Agency’s accommodation centres shall prepare, procure, guarantee and communicate around accessible accommodation centers.
  • Remove the maintenance requirement for migrants with non-normative abilities, so it is possible for them to reunify with their families.

DRW Project organisation

  • The project owner is the Independent Living Institute.
  • The steering group meets about twice a year and consists of representation from DRW and DHR. 
  • A reference group consists of representatives from collaborating organisations. Organizations that DRW collaborate with are among others: the Swedish Agency for Participation – MFD, DHR, the Stockholm City Social Administration, Stockholm City Quota project, the Swedish Employment office, SALAR, Radix, the Ethiopian Association, Bosse, SIOS, Uppsala University, and Caritas. 
  • Friends of Disabled Refugees Welcome is being built as a virtual network through Facebook with everyone who is interested and wants to contribute to DRW.

DRW Project Methods

DRW is using various methods to reach out and document needs as well as solutions for the target group. These are the following:

  • Informing disabled asylum seekers/migrants through peer support about their rights and the support of authorities and NGOs;
  • Supporting disabled asylum seekers/migrants find the support they feel they need;
  • Collecting and disseminating statistics through quantitative methods and qualitative structured interview technique;
  • Analysing narratives  on perceived needs of disabled asylum seekers/migrants; through qualitative methods, and;
  • Developing, testing and disseminating  methods to improve the reception of disabled asylum seekers/migrants by increasing the participation of the target group, and cooperation between authorities and other stakeholders.

Implementation of the project

The DRW team consists of people with non normative abilities, different ethnic backgrounds, migration experiences and languages. Recruiting people who are part of the target group was done to better implement and increase the conditions for a successful project. All team members have been trained in Peer Support. Meet the team on our website.

In order to spread news and information on the DRW project, a website has been built. Relevant information in Swedish, English and the Arabic languages can be found covering​​ the rights of refugees, public and private actors’ efforts in the field, news on changes in the politics of migration, regulations and statistics etc. The website is continuously updated.

Project news are spread with information on upcoming events, publications and media coverage. A special focus is placed on developing a knowledge base that contains information about relevant actors, laws and regulations as well as available support measures.

The project’s print material, reports and information films are continuously uploaded on the website. The DRW website had 1,100 visits during the first year. The page is updated several times a week. Great importance is attached to updates both in the form of text and images.

A Facebook page exists with the name Disabled Refugees Welcome. During the first year, the facebook page had 224 followers and 217 likes. A network is being developed via electronic mailings and the project’s website, for an exchange of experience and collaboration with authorities, NGOs and individuals working with asylum seekers/migrants. The purpose of the network is to be able to refer disabled asylum seekers/migrants to actors who have the best conditions to meet specific needs. A continuous mapping of contacts with relevant actors is carried out. The DRW contact list includes authorities, civil society organizations and individuals who work with the target group.

The first monthly newsletter from the project was sent on January 25, 2018 to 172 individuals and organizations. Since then, the newsletter is sent almost every month with news and links on how to come in contact with DRW in order to become engaged as a volunteer or to attend the various events.

The project organizes round tables for discussions and theme days with the aim of deepening collaboration with the relevant actors and for gaining relevant knowledge of the field. This includes knowledge on current legislation, such as social legislations LSS and SoL, as well as on the Aliens Act. This allows for the development of different approaches for the work with the target group. Examples of theme days carried out thus far are:  LSS and migration, how does migration status affect the right to self-determination?, and, LSS or SoL for newly arrived?

Flyers and brochures have been produced in Swedish, English and Arabic in order to raise awareness on the DRW project. All material is available via the DRW website. The project’s field workers are out and about in different parts of Stockholm distributing flyers and brochures on the project. Field workers also participate regularly in conferences, language cafes and other events to disseminate information on DRW.

The target group is interviewed and documented on their needs and wishes in order for persons to be referred for support. The target group is also invited to events such as the monthly drop-in with the opportunity to share experiences and for inspiration.

 

Examples of DRW cooperation thus far

DRW participates as a member of the reference group in the European Social Fund project Häslsofrämjande Etablering  with the Swedish Social Insurance Agency, Employment Offices and SALAR. Project participants are referred to Bosse Support and Advice Center. DRW  regularly meets different stakeholders such as City of Stockholm Quota Project, to share experiences and lessons learned when working with the quota refugees also known as resettlement refugees. In July 2018, DRW and DHR organized and held a well attended seminar in Almedalen with the title Welcome here, whoever you are. The State Secretary, Ministry of Labor, Anders Kessling, Center Party Member of Parliament, Johanna Jönsson, DRW Project Manager Jamie Bolling, DRW Method Developer Sooz Romero and DHR Chairman Stefan Sundqvist participated in the panel.

Conclusion

After one and a half year, DRW has met many interesting people with great dreams. DRW has made many new friends and is supporting people to the best of its ability. The networks are developing continuously with the DRW volunteer network now being underway. Through emails, telephones and the social media, DRW is being contacted regularly by new persons from the target group with the need to talk, share their experience and find solutions for their daily lives. The demand is high and DRW realizes that those met are only the tip of an iceberg. Within the remaining year and a half of the project, DRW has the challenge of finding ways for the project to become permanent in order to be able to continue giving the needed support and being a link in the chain for better integration of disabled migrants.

 

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