Irish and Latvian Red Cross “buddies” are supporting the integration of refugees

By Mark Richard South, IFRC

With the aim of promoting mutual understanding, social inclusion, and ultimately successful integration, the two Red Cross Societies are working through the AVAIL project to match up new arrivals with local “buddies”.

“In the wake of the refugee crisis there was a spontaneous upsurge of public support towards refugees in Ireland,” said Susanna Cunningham, manager of the AVAIL project with the Irish Red Cross.

“Buddying is a great way to harness that goodwill and help local communities get to know and welcome refugees and asylum seekers better as individuals.”

The buddies are volunteers drawn from the local community able to provide practical and emotional support, as well as opening doors to local networks, to help people ease their way into the new culture, society and community

Matching partners based on location, gender, age and shared interests, ensures refugees and asylum seekers and their buddies have common ground from which to build, and means people have at least one person they know as they settle into their new community.

“In Latvia, there are not really established communities of refugees or asylum seekers, so buddies play a really important role helping people to settle,” said Agnese Trofimova, AVAIL manager for the Latvian Red Cross.

“The culture, society, and language here are so different from what people might be used to, buddies are a vital link to the new communities people find themselves in.”

As well as being hugely useful in helping with basic practical issues and local knowledge – things like how to open a bank account, where to access adult education, what are the best local transport routes – buddies also provide an opportunity for people to practice their language skills, as well as offering friendship.

By spending time with buddies, refugees and asylum seekers themselves get to understand more about local culture and society, but also give buddies and the local community a chance to gain a greater understanding of refugees and asylum seekers as people: the cultures they have come from, the journeys they have made, the challenges they have overcome, and how they can contribute to the community and wider society in their new country.