Refugee families from Colombia adjusting to their new homeland

17. okt. 2007

After a difficult and exhausting journey the Colombian refugees finally arrived at Keflavík International Airport one week ago and are now embarking on a process of integration which will last for roughly one year. The adults within the group have already started an Icelandic language course held by the Alþjóðahús Reykjavík Intercultural Centre while their children have been admitted into Reykjavík nursery, primary and secondary schools.

The Refugee Project is a program jointly organized by the Icelandic state authorities, the Icelandic Red Cross, the City of Reykjavík and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

The Reykjavík Branch of the Icelandic Red Cross is in charge of all aspects of the reception process. Branch staff and volunteers had already renovated municipal housing for the refugees to move in. A local bus operator, Guðmundur Jónasson ehf, had volunteered to take the refugees to their new homes, providing this service since 1956, when the first group of refugees came to this country. 

The very next day after their arrival, the refugees were paid a first visit by their Red Cross support families, who showed them around and took them to the Red Cross Second-Hand Clothing Centre, where the newcomers were given a warm outfit. A total of 58 people have volunteered to assist the newcomers during the next 12 months, which means six to seven Icelandic families for each single refugee family. Never before have so many locals offered to participate in an integration project of this kind.

The Red Cross support families provide important help during the integration process. Their role is most diverse, it is in fact left to each of them in which way they want to assist. Some volunteers take their protégés out for a stroll or to a special event, other just come to talk or to play a game of  football. The supporters´ role is first and foremost to be there and help the refugees to  feel safe again and establish new social contacts.

The Red Cross Young Volunteers also take part in the refugee program. Ten young people have offered to effectively support their peers during the coming winter in one way or another.

The City of Reykjavík has a great number of diverse services and support programs to offer, such as courses of Icelandic, information about all aspects of the Icelandic way of life or work training, held by the Alþjóðahúsið Intercultural Centre. There, the new arrivals can also receive all kind of professional  support and advice. The Icelandic Ministry of Social Affairs supervises the Refugee Project.