Livelihoods and Integration Support in Bulgaria
Submitted by: Desislava Petkova, Program Manager, Caritas Sofia
Email: [email protected]
Introduction to the project
June 2018 - February 2020
The EU AMIF project began in June 2019 for two years.
Vocational and language trainings that enable asylum seekers/refugees/migrants to achieve self-reliance and be successfully integrated.
Caritas Sofia is working with Catholic Relief Services (CRS) to help refugee and asylum seeker families with comprehensive support to integrate into local society. In this effort, Caritas Sofia is helping 500 children, adolescents and adult refugees and asylum seekers to receive education and learn the Bulgarian language, as well as to receive skills training and social services in order to have a foundation to begin their new lives with safety, dignity and stability.
- Local law allowing asylum seekers to work three months after submitting their application.
- Flexible labor market and need for Arabic and English speaking workforce in the tourism, retail and customer service industries.
- Need for both low-skilled and high-skilled labor.
- Catholic Relief Services – under Father Table’s Foundation funding
- State agency for refugees
Challenges and how they were overcome
- Balancing beneficiaries’ expectations and market needs.
- Balancing refugees and asylum seekers’ need for starting a job and time needed to learn the language, in order to access a job.
- Low skills, education and confidence of women as a result of cultural perception. Women often stay home to raise kids and take care of the household, and therefore many lack the skills, education and confidence they need to get a job.
How were they overcome:
- One center approach – At the Caritas Sofia Career Center, refugees and asylum seekers can look for a job but also learn the Bulgarian language.
- Interactive methods to learn Bulgarian, such as the World Cafés and Sofia city tours. World Cafes and city tours are the opportunity for the project beneficiaries to practice Bulgarian, while being confronted to everyday situations, such as shopping at the market, ordering a coffee, buying tickets, etc. This immersion is enhanced by the award-winning ‘Mentoring program’ pairing Bulgarian people and refugees/asylum seekers with the idea to change host community attitudes and allow asylum seekers and refugees to expand their social network.
- Focus on children – Children are crucial to integration of the family. As children begin to go to school, make friends and feel safe, families start imagining their future in Bulgaria. Kindergarten and school enrollment, homework club and summer school have proven essential for family integration.
- Gender integration – Vocational training for refugee women were tailored to meets cultural requirements and improve women’s specific skills.
Results of the Good Practice
- Improved self-reliance: The integration programme encouraged and supported refugees to take the lead in understanding their new environment and adapting to it.
- Increased knowledge of Bulgarian language facilitates social inclusion. Initiatives such as the ‘mentoring program’ promote linkages between refugees and Bulgarian population through socialising, making new friends, getting to know their environment better, stepping out of their comfort zone while feeling safer and welcome. Practicing the Bulgarian language in real-life situations builds the refugees’ self-confidence and makes them feel at home.
- Enhanced motivation and new skills: Women gained confidence and obtained a deeper understanding of employment opportunities appropriate to their needs. Provision of vocational training helped them gain qualifications and increased their capacity to get a job.
- Education: Enrolling children in Bulgarian schools through providing informal education and linking children to local schools contributes to the family integration.
How the project meets the GCR Objectives
Objective 1: Ease the pressures on host countries
Since the project started in 2018, Bulgarian classes have been provided to 281 unique beneficiaries – asylum seekers, refugees, migrants (including children, at the summer school). 44 beneficiaries were included in the Mentoring program and paired with 44 volunteers. The Career Center provided support to over 200 beneficiaries with CV, cover letter, consultation, matching with prospective employers, and preparing for job interviews.
Objective 2: Enhance refugee self-reliance
Promoting self-reliance is the cornerstone of Caritas Sofia’s integration strategy. Our strategy is not just to implement a set of services that beneficiaries receive, it was designed to encourage and support refugees to take the lead of their integration through understanding their new environment and adapting to it. Each of the activities implemented in this project is designed to bring them closer to being self-reliant. Bulgarian language skills, knowledge of the labor market, getting familiar with the surroundings, education and mentoring help refugees and asylum seekers to integrate in the society and feel welcome in Bulgaria.
Caritas Sofia securing funding to continue the project with support from the European Union Asylum Migration and Integration Fund.