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Everybody wants to know about refugees’ skills

Everybody wants to know about refugees’ skills

| Text and photo: Björn Lindahl

While the Nordic countries tightened border controls and made it harder for refugees to seek asylum, they also changed their policies to help refugees get quicker access to the labour market. In Norway the asylum seekers can now register their skills by themselves.

In a room at Oslo’s Adult Education Servicecenter sits Anwar Hormi from Homs in Syria. She is registering her own skills using a newly developed computer tool.

“I have been in Norway for only six weeks, but before that I spent 18 months in a refugee camp in Greece. I came here together with my husband and our two children, who are three and two,” she says.

Photo: Björn Lindahl

The family was chosen by Norwegian authorities as part of the quota that Norway promised to accept from Syria in 2015. Anwar is a physiotherapist, speaks Arabic, English and a bit of French. Her husband is a mathematics teacher.

Anwar has no problem answering the 40-odd questions in the computer questionnaire. The only thing she wonders about is the question about a drivers’ license. Is it about whether she has a Norwegian or a Syrian one? She would like to work in the health and care sector, become a veterinarian, audiologist or something like that. Under work experience she also writes that she worked as an interpreter in the Greek refugee camp.

“I tried to work as much as possible in the refugee camp,” she says.

Nearby sits Eyorusalem Desta from Asmara in Eritrea. She has been in Norway for six months and used to work behind the counter in a photography shop.

She needs help from  the interpreter Helen Mengisteab to answer the questions. Not so much because she doesn’t understand the questions which are there in her own language, Tigrinya, but because she is not used to computers.

Do you use social media? Have you ever sent an SMS using a mobile telephone? Have you ever used the internet to find information? Have you ever used a computer to write a letter or other documents?

She answers no to all of the questions.

“The questions about social media shows what digital skill the people registering here have. That is the most important information to me,” says Helene Fredriksen who is a career advisor at the Adult Education Servicesenter.

“It is I who receive the registered data and who will be using the information to try to find suitable education alternatives or jobs. But I need them less than I thought I would. Most of it we already know from our own computer systems and the interviews which are carried out when the refugees arrive in Norway,” she says.

“The biggest problem is that there are so many alternatives, for instance when it comes to what kind of occupations they might like to explore,” she says.

Jonas Sønnesyn from Skills Norway, which developed the tool, is listening to Helene Fredriksen’s experiences of the computer tool.

“It is a prototype for now which we use in five asylum centres that work a lot with integration, plus at the Drammen asylum centre,” he says.

“Another important reason for introducing the self-registration is that we know very little about the refugees who have not had their asylum applications processed yet. Statistics Norway only has information about the ones that are registered as citizens. This is also important information for the municipalities that are going to receive the refugees.”

The self-registration tool was also presented at the Nordic conference on the integration of refugees into the labour market, which was held in Oslo on 13 June.

“The most important thing is to use the refugees’ skills. We must go into each and everyone’s own profile. The refugee flow arriving in 2015 is overrepresented both when it comes to people with high education and people with very low levels of education, compared to what has been common among immigrants earlier,” says Gina Lund, head of Skills Norway, a public agency with 130 employees.

“So far we have known little when it comes to refugees’ skills. But the mapping is of limited value if the information is not being used. We need resources for modular-based basic teaching which makes it possible for the refugees to complement and use their skills in Norway,” she says.

Facts about the self-registration


  • The tool which Skills Norway has developed together with the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration and the Directorate of Integration and Diversity (IMDi) is available in the 13 most common languages among refugees, plus Norwegian.
  • The answer alternatives are coded in a way that saves the information in Norwegian, even if the answers are given in Arabic or some other language.
  • It follows the refugee in his or her contacts with different authorities. It is voluntary for all over-16s with a good chance to be granted asylum to register their skills.
  • The information does not influence the outcome of any asylum applications.

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