Integration is better together - The Buddy Programme

digital study day on the buddy programme as a complementary tool for the integration of refugees and newcomers was organized on 1 April by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the Association of Flemish Cities and Municipalities (VVSG), the Association of the City and Municipalities of Brussels (BRULOCALIS), and the Federation of CPAS of the Union of Cities and Municipalities of Wallonia (UVCW).

A Buddy is someone from the host community who spends a few hours a month with a newcomer in the city.  There are many possibilities, a buddy can help a refugee learn a language, finish school, find a job or accommodation, or you can just hang out with them. Buddy programme is an opportunity to discover other cultures, contribute to an inclusive society, and even develop lasting friendships. Belgian cities have many excellent examples of buddy programmes, and they want to share their experience with others.

To share experience and lessons learned in the field of migrant integration, this study day offered sessions with experts, local and regional authorities, associations and buddies themselves. Also, politicians responsible for asylum and migration (from Belgian federal government) and integration (at regional level) took the floor  discussing the added value and the limits of buddy activities.

Many Belgian cities have stories to share, like the City of Mechelen where many buddy projects have been implemented in the past years. 

Mechelen started the buddy project Samen inburgeren in 2012. A native of Mechelen becomes a buddy of a newcomer in the city. They are matched on the basis of common interests and in the COVID time communicate via WhatsApp, Skype, Zoom, Google chat. During a six-month period, the buddies meet regularly. Together they practise Dutch, discover the city and learn about each other's cultures.

Another Buddy project is Running together 'Samen lopen'.

Practising Dutch and exercising seems to be an ideal combination. In 2018 and 2019, foreign and Dutch-speaking people from Mechelen went to the Vrijbroek park every week to jog together and talk. To motivate the participants Mechelen has launched a Facebook group to share nice places to go running, give stretching and sports exercises, tips to stay healthy, fun ways to practice Dutch and much more.

School buddies for migrant and refugees children.

Every student is entitled to equal educational opportunities, but sometimes children and/or young people need extra support to succeed. That is why there are buddies. A buddy is not a teacher, a buddy is more like a mentor, an after-school companion once or twice a week for pupils who need an extra push. Pupils receive free tailor-made guidance that increases their chances of success in education. The schools receive extra manpower to increase the well-being of vulnerable groups. The parents receive extra support in guiding their children, and the buddies get an instructive experience in working with underprivileged children and young people. In short, everyone benefits in many ways.