Preparing for a new life

Adapting to a new culture and country can be very difficult, but in Portugal, IOM resettlement staff were particularly concerned about the high level of confusion and fear that resettled refugees were experiencing after arrival. Through interviews and focus group discussions, they learned that the pre-departure orientations they had organized were not painting a realistic picture of life in Portugal for newly arrived refugees, and sought to fix that.

Fatima* had spent her whole life in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, before applying for asylum and eventually resettling in Portugal, with IOM’s assistance. Accustomed to the bustle of city life, she felt confused, lost and out of place in the small, quiet town in the Portuguese countryside where she came to live.

It was through interviews and focus group discussions with recently resettled refugees from Sudan and Syria that IOM’s Lisbon office learned that this sense of isolation and fear was commonplace. The refugees surveyed suggested that the pre-departure orientation sessions given by IOM should include far more detail about living conditions and local culture in the places where they would be settling, and options for family reunification. They also said that they would have liked to hear more directly from refugees already in the country about their resettlement experience and what their new lives would be like.

Based on this feedback, IOM Portugal revised their pre-departure orientation curriculum. They arranged for representatives from refugee assistance groups in Portugal to take calls during the sessions to answer questions. They played recorded testimonial videos from already resettled refugees on issues ranging from life in Portugal, the arrival and integration process for newcomers, accommodation options and public services that are available. They showed photos of typical towns in Portugal and created an Arabic leaflet with key contacts and information.

Initial feedback has been positive so far. Refugee assistance groups in Portugal say the resettlement process is going more smoothly and refugees are adjusting faster, with a more optimistic attitude.

The IOM mission resettlement coordinator says new rounds of formal interviews and focus group sessions are planned: "We’re committed to giving refugees the best tools possible to help them adjust, integrate and excel."