Increasing numbers of refugees entering the EU has sparked debates about helping them to successfully resettle into their new communities. Last year, Delft Mama Julia Candy interviewed some refugee families about their integration and how other Mamas could help on a more individual basis. Join us as Delft Mama Hagar Taha provides an overview of some organizations that serve refugees. She also shares an interview with the head of one such organization, Unity in Diversity.
By Hagar Taha
Since 2015, the number of refugees entering the EU has doubled due to poor security situations in various parts of the world. EU member states have agreed to receive refugees in order to resettle them safely in the region. There have been many discussions regarding their successful integration into their new communities.
In 2015, 60,000 refugees were admitted into the Netherlands. Various national and international organizations exist, dedicated to helping refugees to resettle and integrate in their new communities. The integration programs focus on offering language courses, volunteer opportunities and providing basic living necessities when needed, among other efforts. The Dutch Council for Refugees works with 13.500 volunteers and a few hundred employees to offer refugees practical support during their asylum procedure and their integration in the Dutch society. VluchtlingenWerk Nederland also collaborates with other refugee-assisting organizations in order to facilitate their work. Other organizations that work in the field of refugees in the Netherlands include: WarChild International, CARE, UNHCR, Doctors Without Borders and Refugees International among others.
Unity in Diversity
This article focuses on Unity in Diversity (UID), one of the organizations working to integrate refugees in the Netherlands. A community organization comprised mainly of volunteers, UID offers a fresh perspective on the integration process that is worth highlighting.
Integration as a two-way process
In an interview with Delft Mama, Ms. Miracle Chinwenmeri Uche, UID’s founder, explained that specialists often think about the status-acquiring process and labor-market integration. She states that this approach expects refugees to be responsible for integrating themselves legally and economically into their new host communities. While the work of many NGOs are essential, many are more focused on the one-way integration of refugees into the Dutch society. Ms. Uche suggests a shift towards a socio-cultural approach for refugee integration. In this two-way process, “both the refugees and their host communities integrate together, thereby forming a healthier society adorned by the beauties of diversity.” This sentiment serves as the foundation for UID.
Ms. Uche is a rising international lawyer with a master’s degree in Public International Law from Leiden University and currently pursuing a PhD in International Criminal Law at the University of Essex. The idea for UID was born when attended the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) conference in Ireland in September 2016. This conference focused on the discussion of better protection of refugees. She asked about the involvement of members of the community in the receiving and resettling of refugees among them. She felt that this was essential for successful all-around integration as well as a sustainable community where everyone can feel at home. Ms. Uche later realized that greater attention is placed on labour market integration rather than socio-cultural integration. Thus the idea for UID was born.
UID Integration Programs
Based on this philosophy, UID offers various integration efforts to support refugees in this process. This includes projects such as My University Cares Too (MUCT), Integration Chatroom and their Games from Around the World (GAW) event. A focus on each of these three projects follows here.
My University Cares Too
My University Cares Too is an online platform as well as a community of educators, diversity officers, admission officers, student groups, associations, cultural groups, language schools, and non-profits “who join their efforts to assist, promote inclusion of refugee students, and inspire colleagues to do the same on their campuses.” Having been launched on 18th April 2018 at Erasmus University Rotterdam, the online platform is mainly used to help newcomer refugees with their integration into educational institutions, particularly if they have never been acquainted with Dutch higher education institutions. The community members are available through their contacts on the online platform to provide education advice to refugees when needed.
Integration Chat Room
The Integration Chat Room project, started in 2017, is a space for integration, aimed to address the socio-cultural differences and similarities that people have in a community. It provides the possibility to discuss different aspects of life such as food, work, school, family, health, relationships, politics, environment, hobbies, and many other daily activities. It creates a space for people to share their experiences and learn from each other in a safe, collaborative and interactive environment.
Games from Around the World
Finally, Games from Around the World (GAW) is organized every quarter and introduces a new traditional game or sport. This family-friendly event aims to connect people from different backgrounds through play. Refugees increase their contact with the rest of the local community while increasing their knowledge of the culture and language in a fun, interactive way. Language is not a barrier when you join this event, all you need is willingness to play!
Challenges and how we can get involved
In addition to these projects, Ms. Uche stresses the importance of the UID team of volunteers who approach integration as a two-way process. This process involves refugees and every other member of the society, regardless of their nationality. Project planning is carried out as a collaboration between UID volunteers and refugees to ensure that it is beneficial to every participant involved and the community at large. “We don’t only provide assistance to refugees… they also provide assistance to us in many ways,” she said.
Funding and retention of volunteers
But the road is not without difficulties. Ms. Uche stresses the lack of funds as one of the main challenges that face UID. The government should allocate more funds and resources towards projects such as those set up by UID, she explains. As a foundation that is only three years old, accessing the available funds for refugee assistance is challenging. So far, the work has been made possible by the assistance of the board members and the volunteer team, many of whom are in fact refugees.
Volunteers also create a challenge when they leave “too quickly”, according to Ms. Uche. She adds that the lack of funds prevents them from being able to eventually hire their volunteers. The issue of volunteer retention is a common one for NGOs. It becomes quite difficult, however, to have to recruit and train volunteers throughout the life cycle of ongoing projects. As for the refugees, sometimes their attendance at an event is lower than expected. Ms. Uche explains that this is due to many changes and uncertainties that refugees deal with, coupled with a general expectation that an activity directed to helping them will not actually meet their expectations. However, despite the lower numbers, the refugees who do attend events or participate in their projects are quite satisfied.
There are various ways in which a person or institution can get involved in the work of UID and their on-going efforts to integrate refugees in an interactive manner:
- Volunteer your time. UID particularly needs volunteers who can also speak Arabic, French, Dutch, German, Amharic or Tigrinya. Hiring will resume in December 2019. Potential volunteers are however free to express their interest to join us.
- Get your organization or institution involved. This can be though new projects or making suggestions to existing ones.
- Donate funds. Most importantly, the donations help refugees to resettle in their new communities and help to fund other projects that target challenges with migration.
- Follow UID on social media
- Read UID’s full 2-year report to know more.
Be a part of changing the integration process into a collaborative effort between locals and refugees.
We want to thank Ms. Miracle Chinwenmeri Uche for her time and for providing all of the images used in this piece. Best of wishes as your organization moves forward with achieving its goals!
Hagar Taha is a mom of two little boys, who has recently moved along with her family to Delft. She hold a PhD from the School of Oriental and African Studies in Politics and is particularly passionate about meaning of civil society and refugee work.