Cultural Orientation for Syrian refugees

Niran Kilano, Cultural Orientation Trainer


By Carina Wint, IOM Norway

The Syrian Crisis has created the largest population displacement of the century. The exodus to neighbouring countries has caused a humanitarian disaster that requires a sustained international response.

Our role at IOM is to provide relevant information on Norwegian society and culture - to help prepare people for their new lives in a foreign country. Niran Kilano, a teacher from Trondheim, has worked on IOM cultural orientation missions in Tunisia, Iraq and Syria. As an IOM trainer her job is to give practical information on Norway, and to assist people in setting realistic goals to help them succeed.

As a teacher at the voksenopplæring in Trondelag, Niran has worked closely with migrants for over 10 years. Born in Bagh-dad, she left Iraq at the age of 25 to complete a PHD at Mos-cow State University. After leaving Russia, she worked across the Arab world. In 2001 Niran came to Norway as UN quota refugee: she knows, more than most, what it takes to survive in a foreign country. And with women making up 60% of all refugees - as stipulated by the Norwegian government – it’s essential that IOM Norway has female trainers that can bridge both the gender and culture gap.

This year, Niran will travel to Lebanon with a team of IOM trainers to help Syrian refugees bound for Norway. Five years earlier in 2009, she was working with Iraqi Palestinians – a community who left Palestine after WW2 – fleeing the Iraq War. “The refugees weren’t welcome in either Iraq or Syria. Every day, we did a 7 hour round trip to teach them in their make shift camp in the no-man’s land between the border points. - it wasn’t easy,” says Niran. “But that’s why I like it. It’s very different to my life in Trondheim,” she laughs.

“The women ask me many different questions,” says Niran. “The Libyan women asked if they could divorce their husbands in Norway,” she says. “They want to know about food, clothes, daily life. These women are educated they want to know about job opportunities.

”But of course not all women are the same: “How they feel about coming to Norway depends on how religious they are,” says Niran. “Some women are worried about what will happen to their daughters. Whether they’ll have boyfriends or not; if they will rebel. I have grown up kids in Norway so I can talk about those issues.

They were genuinely worried about barnavern. I told them that, yes, rules existed to protect children, and as long they didn’t abuse their children they had nothing to fear.”

“For me it’s about helping people. I share the same language as refugees from the Arabic speaking world. I understand their fears, and they feel comfortable asking me questions.” After two months of intensive cultural orientation training in Lebanon, Ni-ran will return home to Trondheim, slipping back into life as a teacher and a mother of 3 grown up children. And when she finds the time she’ll meet up with women from Palestine and Sudan who, like her, fled war torn countries to find refuge in Norway.

Carina Wint is a communications officer in IOM Norway