Norwegian Cultural Orientation Programme (NORCO): Fostering Integration of Resettled Refugees in Local Communities

Bhutanese refugees in Nepal attend a cultural orientation to prepare them for resettlement in Norway. © IOM 2009

Integration works best when refugees accepted for resettlement and their receiving communities have a good understanding of each other's expectations and differences.

In line with this, IOM's Norwegian Cultural Orientation (NORCO) programme provides:

  • Pre-departure orientation focused on Norwegian culture and society for refugees accepted for resettlement in Norway; and
  • Information about the countries where the refugees are from for the Norwegian municipalities where they will resettle.

Key Objectives

  • Facilitate the resettlement and integration of refugees into Norwegian society
  • Empower refugees and enhance their self-confidence during the initial stages of resettlement by providing them with accurate information about their new country
  • Assist Norwegian municipalities in supporting refugees to integrate by increasing municipal workers' knowledge about the newcomers

Project Description

"The strength of IOM Oslo's Norwegian Cultural Orientation is the provision of information to Norway quota refugees about Norwegian culture and society and information to municipal refugee workers about the refugees’ country, background and culture. Both need their specific information for better integration."
-- William Kweku Paintsil, NORCO Programme Coordinator, IOM Oslo

Cultural Orientation: NORCO classes take four days for adults (16 years and above) and two days for children (8-15 years). The training sessions are “learner-centered” and hands-on, meaning that participants are not simply told about life in their new country, but are given the opportunity to experience it through role-plays, case studies, problem-solving activities, games, debates, and other activities that need their full participation. Video clips and presentations are used to highlight the topics, and student handbooks are provided for reference. Questions are encouraged, as are opportunities for evaluation and follow-up.

NORCO training sessions are handled by a bi-cultural trainer. A bi-cultural trainer is a person who has a background similar to that of the refugee group and who has lived in Norway. He or she speaks the language of the cultural orientation participants, so an interpreter is not needed. The bi-cultural trainer acts as a role model for the refugees, as he or she has successfully integrated in Norway, learned the language, and has also managed to professionally establish himself or herself in Norway.

Information Seminars: Information Seminars in the municipalities are one-day events. The inviting municipality is responsible for providing a venue and inviting the participants, while IOM is responsible for the content and presentations given in the seminar.

The information seminars cover the following topics:

  • Basic facts about the country of origin of refugees, including the history, ethnic make up, and reasons underlying the conflict which has led the people to flee
  • Cultural profile of the concerned refugee group focusing on practical expressions of culture and values in everyday life
  • Living conditions in the country of first asylum
  • Concerns of the refugees regarding the resettlement to Norway
  • IOM and the NORCO

IOM regularly obtains feedback from both resettled refugees and their communities to improve the method of teaching and the cultural orientation curricula. Other programme activities include community consultations among the resettled refugees in Norway, and staff training and development activities for the Cultural Orientation project staff to ensure the high quality of the service and support.



Refugees attend a pre-departure cultural orientation course. © IOM 2009

In 1994, the Norwegian Government took the first step towards establishing the Norwegian cultural orientation programme in Bataan, the Philippines, where Indochinese refugees prepared for a new life in resettlement countries. Experience showed that providing refugees with information on their resettlement or destination country before they leave is paramount to their successful integration there.

Consequently, when the IOM office in Oslo opened in 2002, the Norwegian government requested IOM to develop a Norwegian Cultural Orientation programme using IOM's Finnish Cultural Orientation programme as a starting point and adjusting it to local needs.

IOM Oslo started the Norwegian cultural orientation programme in March 2003. Since then, approximately 2,500 refugees have participated in the programme and have included:

  • Congolese (training hosted in Zambia, Malawi and Tanzania)
  • Burundians (Zambia)
  • Liberians (Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast and Guinea)
  • Burmese (Malaysia, India and Thailand)
  • Bhutanese (Nepal)
  • Iraqis (Syria)
  • Eritreans (Sudan)
  • Vietnamese (Philippines)
  • Palestinians (post-arrival, training hosted in Norway)

In 2006, the responsibility for overseeing and funding the cultural orientation programme shifted from the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration (UDI) to the newly established Directorate of Integration and Diversity (IMDi), with IOM continuing to provide the cultural orientation services.

NORCO will be extended one more year to the end of 2010.


  • Eritrean, Bhutanese, Afghan, Iraqi, Palestinian and Burmese refugees
  • Norwegian municipal refugee workers
  • Health, school and other social workers

Concrete Benefits

  • Increased awareness of refugees about Norwegian life and society
  • Increased awareness of municipal workers about what the refugees expect from Norwegian society
  • Refugees form realistic expectations about living in a Norwegian municipality
  • Refugees suffer less from the effects of culture shock
  • Refugees learn about life in Norway from a bi-cultural trainer who serves as their role model

Principal Activities

  • Provide refugees with pre-departure cultural orientation
  • Provide municipal workers in Norway with information about the refugees' country, including their background and culture
  • Develop refugee country profiles for the general public and municipal workers
  • Organize community consultation meetings where resettled refugees share their personal experiences with the cultural orientation trainers and refugee workers.