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COVID-19: Through Digitalkompis, integration can continue despite social distancing

During the COVID-19 pandemic, people have been encouraged to physically distance and isolate themselves. However, this is causing difficulties for immigrants who are trying to integrate into Swedish society. Nya Kompisbyrån, an organisation that aims to build relationships between new and established Swedes, is responding to the situation by helping people to build relationships via video calls.

“I’m a curious person and I would like to have a Swedish friend”, says Manar in an interview with UNRIC.

Manar Ramzi, 35, moved to Sweden just over two years ago. She is currently studying to continue working as a doctor and gynaecologist, her former profession in her home country of Iraq. Manar told us about the difficulties she has experienced when it comes to making contact with Swedes.

Manar would like to meet Swedish friends but it hasn’t been easy, and most of her friends are people from the same culture. When she was told about Digitalkompis (“Digital Friend“) and Nya Kompisbyrån (“the New Friend Agency”) by one of her teachers, she registered immediately, believing it was a safe way to make new friends.

Sophie Brömster is 31 years old and a student on the psychology program in Örebro. She heard about Nya Kompisbyrån and Digitalkompis through Facebook.

“I became very interested in the Digitalkompis project, especially since I’ve been sitting around at home a lot more during this pandemic. I started to think about what I can do that feels meaningful”, Sophie says.

Sophie and Manar both feel they have learnt a lot from their new friendship together. They have spoken a few times since the beginning of April when they had their first conversation and their calls can last hours.

“Our conversations go on for a long time”, says Manar happily, “more than an hour”.

Photo: Instagram, nya_kompisbyran

“We talk about everything in life”

The success of Nya Kompisbyrån is evident – 97% of new Swedes feel more, or much more, welcome in Sweden after a meeting. Nya Kompisbyrån also builds bridges between different cultures and 95% of new and established Swedes feel they have learned something new about a different culture.

Manar and Sophie have built a close relationship since their first meeting.

© Manar Ramzi “We talk about everything in life, everything. I’m always curious to find out more about what Swedes’ lives are like. I ask Sophie lots of questions about traditions, celebrations, and life in general. Last time we talked we spoke about love, relationships, and our personal lives”, says Manar.

Sophie and Manar frequently discuss the pandemic and share each other’s concerns; Sophie, who now lives in Örebro, cannot meet her family living in Stockholm and Manar misses her family in Iraq.

© Sophie Brömster What Sophie has found most fascinating, she says, is discovering how much they have in common despite their very different life experiences. Sophie goes on to talk about the things she has learnt from her friendship with Manar:

“We talk a lot about holidays, especially with Ramadan taking place right now. I even learn a lot about Sweden. Sometimes Manar asks questions that make me start to think about things that I have otherwise taken for granted, or do automatically.”

Digitalkompis was a direct response to COVID-19

When the COVID-19-pandemic broke out, Digitalkompis was established in direct response to the physical distancing measures.

“Digitalkompis appeals to a lot of people right now. We have received registrations from all over the country and we have seen how effective it can be when it’s easy for people to get involved in society”, Mardin Baban, Head of Operations at Nya Kompisbyrån, told UNRIC.

Integration risks being put on hold

Since Digitalkompis was launched in mid March, more than 1,300 people have become digital friends. In fact, hundreds of new Swedes are waiting to be matched and there is a significant need for more established Swedes to register.
“The new Swedes cannot go to school and social gatherings are cancelled as a result of COVID-19. This makes it extremely important for these people to find other ways of getting to know others in order to integrate into Swedish society”, says Mardin.

Digitalkompis is also contributing to Sustainable Development Goal 10 – promoting social inclusion of all, irrespective of age, ethnicity, origin, or religion. In a survey on the effects of the work of Nya Kompisbyrån, 22% of new Swedes got a job thanks to the person they met through the Organisation.

“It just goes to show how important it is to build a network in order to be recommended for a job. Eight out of ten jobs in Sweden are communicated through contacts, it’s very important that as a new Swede you get a reasonable chance at being able to build a network”, Mardin says.

Sophie and Manar are both convinced that they will see each other face to face when the pandemic is over and are sure they will continue to be friends.

“When I got to know Sophie, it was clear that we were on the same wavelength. I think we will become close friends in the future”, says Manar.

“We have already decided to travel together”, says Sophie.

 

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