“We like challenges” is one of Borlänge Municipality’s core principles. The Chairman of the Municipal Executive Committee, Jan Bohman (Soc. Dem.), is looking to Kenya to build a partnership that will support the town’s numerous Somali refugees.
“It’s controversial, given the ongoing integration debate in Sweden, but we need to think outside the box. I believe differences enrich and promote creativity, and my hope is that our approach and their expertise will enrich Borlänge,” says Jan.
The industrial town of Borlänge has experienced a major influx of people from other countries in a short space of time, and 8% of the population is now of Somali origin.
“It’d be short-sighted of us not to make smart use of these people’s contacts, culture and know-how,” says Jan Bohman.
The municipality has participated in international projects in partnership with ICLD for many years now. Jan Bohman has been involved in several of them and is currently a member of, amongst other things, the steering group for an 11-year partnership with Wuhan in China.
“The fact of the matter is that we are constantly looking for ways to continue developing our international involvement. And looking for ways to work with the fairly large number of Somalis we have here in Borlänge is a natural place for us to start,” says Jan Bohman.
But working with people from Somalia in Somalia is difficult, due to visa regulations and other restrictions, so last year, the municipality set out on a path that led through Visby and the Almedalen Week – to Lodwar in Kenya.
“We were attending a seminar organised by ICLD when we came up with the idea that we could work with a municipality which – like us – had taken in a large number of Somali refugees. We were excited by Lodwar’s approach, so we submitted an application to ICLD for permission to carry out a pilot study,” says Jan Bohman.
Working towards the UN’s global goals through municipal partnerships that give rise to natural forms of cooperation has proven to be both inspirational and effective.
“It’d be short-sighted of us not to make smart use of these people’s contacts, culture and know-how. My hope is that our approach and their expertise will enrich Borlänge.”
Having learned from previous experiences, when there were divergent interests in a sector of the immigrant population, the municipality engaged the services of Ayan Ubahle, who arrived in Borlänge as a refugee from Somalia in 2008. Between 2016 and 2017, she worked hand in hand with the municipality’s refugee reception group, and she is now employed in the international department.
Do you have political consensus on the project?
“I’ve always been careful to establish support for our work, particularly with the centre-right Alliance parties. Full transparency is a must and ensures people feel that they are part of the process. We can’t allow internal political tensions to interfere when we step outside our national boundaries in our work with municipal partnerships,” says Bohman.
Two of the facts in the success of Borlänge’s municipal partnerships are widespread unanimity amongst senior politicians and sticking to the task. The starting point is Lodwar’s and Borlänge’s shared ideas on ensuring a sustainable local community when large groups of refugees arrive.
What are the most important Agenda 2030 goals in your partnership?
“Goals 11, 5 and 1 are covered by the aims of our work with Lodwar. We’ve never used this approach before, but we are hoping that the pilot study will show that we can make it work. The idea is for representatives from Lodwar to come here in October and for us to go there in February. It’s a challenging project, but a very exciting one.”
What is Borlänge’s approach to sustainable urban development?
“The challenge is to break down the segregation. Many of our new arrivals end up in areas where they only meet people from their own country, and the risk there is that it will take them a very long time to learn the language and the new culture. It prevents them establishing themselves in the community in an optimum way.”
“We want to build homes that will attract our new arrivals, but which are also attractive to people already living in the town. I believe that creating housing and opportunities for education are the basis of good integration work.”
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