A 2018 study by the Refugee Centre of the University of Oxford explains that the global narrative on social protection for refugees and asylum seekers is still mainly one-sided, with a common understanding that “international organisations are the protectors and refugees are the protected” (University of Oxford 2018, p.1).
Refugees are seen as passive in the system of social protection in that little recognition is given to refugee-led initiatives for the latter. So-called refugee-led community organisations (RCOs) generally lack funding, support, and recognition even though often providing essential social protection help in national groups of refugee communities or across nationalities (Ibid, 1 and 3).
This blog series has explored and analysed the field of actors in the Danish social protection system for refugees and asylum seekers. The Danish government and administration, international organisations, and local volunteers all put very much effort in the social protection of refugees and asylum seekers arriving in the country in order to make their entry and inclusion into society as well as the social and economic system as smooth as possible.
As a final entry in the series, this article explores the “self-made social protection” by refugees and asylum-seekers. It explores the way social protection is developed though a self-led labour marked initiative: Cooking traditional meals by refugee women in the restaurant and catering service “Send Flere Krydderier”. These women use the social protection structures and environment to build their own initiatives to accelerate their (economic) social protection.
Unification and empowerment behind the stove and on the table
The social economy business “Send Flere Krydderier” (Send more Spices) is a great example of how a given formal and institutional framework can be used to provide social protection for refugees. It was born in 2013 out of an initiative by the Danish “Indvandrer Kvindecentret” (Center for Female Immigrants) - a network and competence center for ethnic minority women and their families, offering competence and capacity building, counselling, and social support on topics such as social inequality in health, work identity, and employment (Indvandrer Kvindecentret 2019a). The centre does not only cater to refugees, but they are a main portion of the recipients of the provided services.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) states that “[s]ocial protection creates an enabling environment for promoting (…) economic empowerment (…)” (FAO 2015, p.1). In this case, the women’s centre provided the necessary frame and environment for the women behind “Send Flere Krydderier” to design and implement their approach of how they can contribute to the Danish labour market, thus creating their own labour market initiative.
One of the main focuses of the centre is to bring women together, as “food breaks down barriers and brings people together across cultures and languages” (Indvandrer Kvindecentret, 2019b, freely translated by the author). Equally as these women were brought together behind the stove; the food from the countries of origin of these women now brings strangers together at the table, aiding social integration.
What is the main resource of the social economy business? It’s as simple as: Traditional recipes and cooking habits that these women brought from their countries of origin and now cook for their Danish and international guests. The more refugee women take part in the cooking, the more international the menu is. Equally, more knowledge and expertise are shared amongst the women, so each of them expands their competencies, which further qualifies them for future jobs in gastronomy.
Making hidden talents an advantage for social protection initiatives
The idea behind “Send Flere Krydderier” was to find a creative solution for a problem a lot of refugee women from non-western backgrounds face in Denmark: Although social protection is available to help women enter the labour force, statistics show that this population group lacks the education, language competency, and/or experience to effectively participate in these initiatives. However, these statistics ignore the existing education, competencies, and experience these women have, namely in regard to cooking (Send Flere Krydderier, 2019).
Consequently, the social economy business answers to a problem studied and addressed by the Dansk Arbejdsgiverforening (Danish employers' association): Too few refugees are classified as ready to start a job after a screening of their competencies and qualifications (Brygger, 2018). This may suggest that the official social protection initiatives through labour marked initiatives might not reach their full potential in Denmark, as some competencies that would qualify for a job – like cooking of traditional meals – are overlooked (see also Kronberg, 2018).
Conclusion: Community-led informal social protection
Taking ‘hidden talents’ and turning them into a self-made labour market initiative has proven to be successful: Starting as a small initiative of catering, “Send Flere Krydderier” now also provides food tp two restaurants in Copenhagen with great success. But most importantly, it succeeds in providing not only a place to work, but also a space of recognition and self-realisation for refugee women (Skarum, 2018).
All in all, this example shows how self-made, informal social protection initiatives can help to close gaps that are overlooked by official providers of social protection, as refugees and asylum seekers can find their own ways into a country’s social and economic system by turning their special talents into their own social protection initiatives.
Brygger, Rasmus (2018). Trepartsaftalen om integration, Dansk Arbejdsgiverforening, 06. Septmeber 2018. Accessible: https://www.da.dk/politik-og-analyser/integration/2018/trepartsaftalen-om-integration/. Accessed August 22nd, 2019.
FAO (2015). Empowering Rural Women Through Social Protection, RURAL TRANSFORMATIONS - Technical Papers Series #2. Accessible: http://www.fao.org/3/a-i4696e.pdf. Accessed August 20th, 2019.
Indvandrer Kvindecentret (2019a). Om Invandrer Kvindecentret. Accessible: http://i-kc.dk/om-ikc/. Accessed August 20th, 2019.
Indvandrer Kvindecentret (2019b). Send Flere Krydderier. Accessible: http://i-kc.dk/detgoervi/send-flere-krydderier-2/. Accessed August 20th, 2019.
Kronberg, Karen (2018). Flere indvandrere i jobkøen, selv om virksomhederne »hungrer« efter arbejdskraft, Jyllands-Posten, 20 March 2018. Accessible: https://jyllands-posten.dk/premium/indland/ECE10428943/flere-indvandrere-i-jobkoeen-selv-om-virksomhederne-hungrer-efter-arbejdskraft/. Accessed August 21st, 2019.
Send Flere Krydderier (2019). Hvem er vi? Accessible: https://www.sendflerekrydderier.dk/kopi-af-nbh-arrangementer. Accessed August 22nd, 2019.
Skarum, Sandra (2018). Maden er indvandrerkvinders vej til arbejde og anerkendelse, Politiken, 08. September 2018. Accessible: https://politiken.dk/forbrugogliv/art6678321/Maden-er-indvandrerkvinders-vej-til-arbejde-og-anerkendelse. Accessed August 22nd, 2019.
University of Oxford (2018). Refugee Study Centre, Refugees as Providers of Protection and Assistance. RSC Research in Brief 10, December 2018. Accessible: https://www.rsc.ox.ac.uk/publications/research-in-brief-refugees-as-providers-of-protection-and-assistance. Accessed August 20th, 2019.