Mid-term evaluation of the Samen Hier pilot
In 2018, Justice & Peace started the pilot Samen Hier as the first Dutch implementation of community-based intervention for receiving and welcoming refugees. The Samen Hier pilot started in Almere, Den Haag, and Rotterdam with 42 Welcome Groups and status holders (households). The pilot will finish in the Spring of 2021, after which a thorough evaluation will follow. In our mid-term evaluation, we have looked at the experiences and results of Samen Hier until June 2020. These first results are largely positive, and create a solid foundation for Samen Hier: the large majority of participants indicated that Samen Hier has had a lasting impact on their lives, and that they would recommend the programme to others.
The pilot program was developed in close collaboration with Dr. Craig Damian Smith and his research team at the University of Toronto, Columbia University, University of Mannheim and Ryerson University.
In this article, we discuss the summarised results of the mid-term evaluation.
Samen Hier matches newcomers with a refugee background (individuals or a household) to a Welcome Group in a town or city. Welcome Groups consist of five Dutchmen; such as colleagues, a group of friends, or neighbours. For one entire year, these groups use their combined network, time, enthusiasm, and knowledge to help a status holder build a new life for themselves (and their family) in their new hometown. Through Samen Hier, we wish to realise the active participation of Dutch residents in the receiving, protection, and equal integration of refugees in the Netherlands. In our view, sheltering refugees in the Netherlands can be a shared responsibility of the government and of the society.
We measure and evaluate continuously throughout our pilot, and we strive for results that show a visibly broad effect. We have measured results in relation to employment rate, language acquisition, and education, as well as relationship-management, intercultural communication, and social capital. Additionally, we have looked at the efficiency of both our current matching procedure and the subsequent guidance offered by Justice & Peace.
Employment, linguistic proficiency, and education
We see that acquiring the Dutch language is one of the greatest priorities for Samen Hier participants. It is also one that requires a big time investment. The mandatory language courses that are a part of the official integration programme, for example, are very intensive. The process of language acquisition is still in full swing at the time of this mid-term evaluation. Nevertheless, 82% of status holders already indicate that their Welcome Groups have played a vital part in their still-improving linguistic proficiency.
When it comes to employment, it is clear that paid work often requires command of the local language. This makes it hard for newcomers to find fulltime jobs or to receive further training in their workfield, especially in the first two years after their arrival. Once the pilot ends, we hope to have better insight in the development of participants, both with regard to employment and language acquisition. However, multiple status holders suggested that the members of their Welcome Groups were either directly or indirectly responsible for finding them new jobs or volunteer work. Thanks to their groups, a number of our participants have managed to find parttime jobs, volunteering positions, and internships. Members of Welcome Groups, in turn, have shared that they have been very impressed by the drive and ambition shown by their match.
Trust, equality, and intercultural communication
In setting up Samen Hier, we pay specific attention to the establishment improvement of equal relationships. The majority of both Welcome Groups and status holders have indicated that they trust one another, and that they feel comfortable to share feelings and emotions with their match. Many of them also experience the mutual contact as informal and friendly. Our conversations with participating status holders showed that the impact on their personal life is especially significant when the contact with members of their Welcome Groups evolves into friendships. One of them told:
“In the first six months I didn’t have any human contact. I didn’t know anyone, and I was at home 24/7. I felt like an orphan. […] Meeting my group has changed everything: the language, social interaction, integration – it has all improved. I missed my sisters and my family, but with this group, it feels like we have known each other for a long time. They remember my birthday and celebrate it with me. It creates a positive energy. Little by little it has made me brave enough to say more, and to also talk to others. They have become my sisters.”
At the start of the trajectory, some of our participants – especially status holders – experience a barrier of cultural differences. Our evaluation shows that not only have status holders learned more about Dutch culture, but the process has also worked the other way: 77% of our Welcome Groups and 82% of our status holders indicate that they understand the culture and customs of ‘the other’ much better now than they did at the beginning. A vital part in this process is played by cultural ambassadors, who assist the participants in their trajectory. These cultural ambassadors are of a bi-cultural background, speak Dutch as well as the language of the newcomer, and act as a bridge between the Welcome Group and status holder(s) in order to facilitate equal interaction.
Social networks and integration
So far, the pilot has shown that Welcome Groups play an important role in connecting status holders to the relevant people and/or organisations. Samen Hier has provided access to broad social contacts, demonstrated, for instance, by the networks of Welcome Groups which have helped finding jobs or courses for status holders. Extending the social network of status holders is not instrumental in their integration, but also contributes significantly to social cohesion and trust. We will elaborate on this in our final report, but for now we can carefully state that participation in Samen Hier has meaningful effects with regard to integration and social cohesion.
Matching, supervision, and community building
Our evaluation has also given us insight into the implemented matching procedure, and the supervision provided by Samen Hier. For the pilot, Welcome Groups and status holders have been matched on the basis of a preference-ranking matching algorithm, which has been developed by the Pairity research team at the University of Toronto, Columbia University, and Ryerson University. While the majority of respondents reported to be satisfied with the procedure, our findings also show that there is room for improvement – for example by shortening the intake surveys.
Throughout the trajectory, Samen Hier offered support to groups and status holders though training courses, cultural ambassadors, monthly check-in calls, and informal community-building activities. Our participants have experienced this support very positively. Not all community events and courses could take place in real life due to the national Covid-19 measures, and some of these were instead offered online. Examples are two online cooking workshops hosted by participants, and a virtual tour through Rotterdam. The Covid-19 measures also (greatly) impacted the contact between status holders and Welcome Groups. Almost 94% of our participants have reported that the pandemic has negatively impacted their involvement in Samen Hier, and has decreased the contact with their match. Nevertheless, participants have come up with various creative ways to stay actively involved, such as instruction videos to practice the Dutch language. During the temporary ease of the restrictions, participants were also quick to adapt. It resulted in Eid-celebrations, picnics, and walks at 1.5 meter distance.
A sequel to the Samen Hier pilot
Justice & Peace sees positive opportunities to develop Samen Hier into a community sponsorship programme to the likes of those in other European countries. In these, local residents play a vital role in the acceptance of refugees, and – in coordination with the (local) authorities – they take responsibility in shaping the welcoming and integration of these refugees into their communities. This responsibility can be a financial one, but can also take the shape of investing time, knowledge, and networks. Because refugees are welcomed into a local community from day one, sponsorship programmes are viewed as successful models to improve integration, social cohesion, and public support for sheltering refugees. Rotterdam has taken a first step towards this model: Welcome Groups from Samen Hier work in coordination with the municipality, VluchtelingenWerk, and COA to shape and realise the welcoming of resettles refugees.