When a young asylum seeker or refugee succeed in overcoming a list of problems and begin participating through volunteering, he or she often describe an increase in self-confidence and social inclusion.
A new report – the Volunteering for Social Inclusion report (VSI) – presents the results from young asylum seekers’ and refugees’ experiences as volunteers in a Danish and Scottish context.
While the basic premise of the project behind the report has been that volunteering leads to participation, which in turn leads to social inclusion, the report examines the opportunities and barriers associated with this movement, seen from the viewpoint of the young asylum seekers and refugees themselves.
“Sometimes you can even discover that you are practically the same as a Scottish person. And you didn’t know that, because you are from a different country, different culture, different religion – but you are totally similar, you have similar thinking”
(20-year-old asylum seeker living in Scotland)
Regarding the opportunities and barriers to participation in voluntary work, the report shows how it is important not just to investigate the young peoples’ individual motivation, resources and skills with regard to volunteering and social inclusion, as there are also often various individual barriers to participation in the surrounding society.
These barriers are found across the young asylum seekers and refugees irrespectively of the country of residence and are not least to do with language barriers and – as often following from this – a certain lack of self-confidence, shyness or insecurity in relation to meeting and coming into contact with the local population.
However, as shown in the report, whenever the young people succeed in overcoming these problems and begin participating through volunteering, they often subsequently describe an increase in self-confidence and social inclusion.
However, as discussed and analyzed in the report, even if one is aware both of the young person’s individual motivation and barriers, this still does not provide enough focus, because for most young asylum seekers and refugees, their daily lives are deeply bound up with the more structural level of society.
Perhaps the asylum case takes up all of ones thoughts or mental resources, or perhaps one is struggling just to gain access to basic economical or social support. Or perhaps one is even without a place to live. This can mean that the young person is so challenged in his or her daily life (psychologically, economically, practically and logistically etc.), that the various forms of social interaction available in the local area, e.g voluntary work, are far down the priority list.
In other words: while focusing on the individual young asylum seeker or refugee (in terms of his or her resources, skills and motivation) the report shows how we must also focus on the surrounding social structures – as these themselves can create barriers with regard to the young asylum seekers’ and refugees’ opportunities and access to use their and act on their motivation to participate.
This means that ’empowerment’ and inclusion are mutually dependent in the life of the young people. The report lists a number of recommendations for both EU institutions and individual EU Member States for this relationship to be further stengthened.
The overall opportunities and barriers to social inclusion through volunteering relate to a broader European context – as are the recommendations brought forward in the report.