There has been a lot of discussion about the difficulties of integration in Sweden in recent years. One organization is taking the integration process to the individual level, by pairing up established Swedes with newly arrived immigrants, hoping to foster new friendships and to help recent immigrants better and faster integrate into Swedish society.
The initiative Kompis Sverige, or Friend Sweden, emerged from the Red Cross in Stockholm and co-founder Natassia Fry says that the idea sprang from a need within Swedish society to deal with integration from outside of governmental bureaucracy.
"We really felt that there is a big problem in Sweden that there is a big divide between new Swedes and established Swedes. This is a problem on a personal level, because of feelings of exclusion, but it's also a very big problem for society, with economic and social costs as a consequence. So, we felt we need to do something about this," Fry said.
Fry said that most integration projects exist only for relatively short periods before they disappear. This is why Kompis Sverige collaborates with municipalities and other institutions like museums to try to make it sustainable. And everyone who participates in the program is a volunteer, which Fry says is important if the program is to be successful.
"What you need for the process of integration to be able to work is an equal dynamic between the two parts being integrated together, and you also need it to be based on free will. This is why we wanted to use the word 'kompis', or friend, to highlight how it is an equal dynamic. Integration is a two-way process, it is everyone's responsibility. It is not something that can happen top-down from a government level. It has to happen at a grassroots levels."
Mohammed, originally from Syria, came to Sweden nine months ago and several months later he applied to participate in Kompis Sverige. Now he feels like he has a very good friend and says the program has helped him a lot to understand how people think and how the system works in Sweden.
"Now I feel like I have friends. Nobody can live without friends. And it can be a little difficult to find friends in Sweden," Mohammed said.
Natassia Fry said that there are about 750 enrolled as friends in Kompis Sverige, which started in May 2013.