On World Refugee Day at UN City in Copenhagen, three people who had fled war talked about their experience integrating into Denmark at an event hosted by the World Bank-UNHCR Joint Data Center on Forced Displacement (JDC) and moderated by Maja Lazic, Deputy Head of the Center. 

“When I arrived, it was actually a bit of a shock, what happened, and what I should do here,” said Kateryna Shaman, who fled Kyiv, Ukraine earlier this year. 

“Interaction really helped me to settle down. I started to network with people who are living in my town. They proposed to help me with information about how to find a job here, so I was meeting with a lot of people. From the second week I was here, I started to search for a job because I decided that I should include myself in the society, I should pay taxes, work and so on. In one month, I found it,” said Kateryna during the panel discussion.  

Kateryna’s experience is not unique. 

Research reviewed by JDC Senior Economist Domenico Tabasso, revealed that voters in 15 European countries showed the greatest support for asylum seekers ‘who have higher employability’, among other characteristics. However, this doesn’t mean that the support is always there. Each of the three speakers on the panel agreed that they had to take responsibility for establishing themselves in their new home. 

Kinan Mansour, who left Syria when he was 18 and spent eleven years in Lebanon before arriving in Denmark said that “Whether it’s finding a place to live or finding somewhere to work, I had to be proactive.”  Kinan was open about the struggles he has had integrating into Denmark. This may be because, in several studies in different countries, people showed more approval of those they perceived to be vulnerable, such as women and refugees with children. 

Although Kateryna and Kinan are very different people, as forcibly displaced people integrating into a new country, their experience was similar – they both had to be proactive. Domenico’s paper – Refugee Emergencies and Attitudes Towards Refugees: Some Insights from the Academic Literaturefound that there are three main common factors across countries and continents that can influence a refugee’s experience of integration, namely information, interaction and inclusion. Consulting the relevant literature, Domenico concluded that, when shaped into policy, these three factors can help sustain an openness towards refugees. 

Domenico presented his findings before Kateryna, Kinan and a third speaker, Yuliia Kuzmytska, spoke. The paper collated research on forcibly displaced populations from Germany to Jordan.  Across Europe, the research showed that attitudes varied widely from country to country, with no clear link between the number of asylum seekers in a country and the local population’s attitude towards them. 

In Denmark, Kinan said that he experienced different attitudes towards him depending on “how international they are, if they lived abroad, if they are used to immigration, if they are used to seeing people who are different.” At the same time, he also admitted that his own attitude played a role in how people behaved towards him. “What changes that (attitudes) is my attitude. The way that I would answer, the way that I would smile, the way that I would turn the question to them.” 

For Yuliia, who also fled from Ukraine to Denmark earlier this year, her difficulties were not so much with people, but with organisations. “I told people about my experience and education in Ukraine but, unfortunately, it has not helped me to find a job here. I conclude that my Ukrainian experience and education don’t matter here.” 

The recognition of education and experience is something that policy can change and is one of the reasons why the JDC produces analysis such as Domenico’s paper which was part of the latest JDC’s Quarterly Digest. The Digest is issued every quarter and collates research on thematic areas of displacement policy and programming. 

The JDC is a partnership between the World Bank and UNHCR that was established in 2019 and aims to dramatically improve the quality, quantity and accessibility of microdata on refugees, internally displaced, stateless people, and their host communities. The goal of the center is to enhance the ability of stakeholders to make timely and evidence-informed decisions that can improve the protection and wellbeing of affected people. 

The next Quarterly Digest will be distributed in September. To receive a copy, email markham@unhcr.org or download previous issues.