Living room offers vulnerable refugees a warm home: ‘We’re in the same boat’

Photo credit: Dirkje Blikman/Studio040

A place to catch your breath, for lessons or day care and good conversation. The De Huiskamer voor Vluchtelingen (living room for refugees) on Lichtstraat in Eindhoven is a home for undocumented refugees. Six years old this month, it is the only place asylum seekers without status can go.

Ali Jaber has been joining the home for a year. “I feel connected to the people here. We’re all in the same boat. The volunteers here really try to support you”. Jaber comes from Iraq where it has been unsettled for years. “At one point I didn’t feel safe anymore. Every day it got worse, I no longer had a life there. Eventually I fled to the Netherlands and now I’m in the process of asking whether I can stay or not”.

“I especially enjoy swimming on Monday nights”, Jaber says. “Because of a trauma from before, I had become afraid of the water. Here I learned to swim again and I’m not afraid anymore. I even enjoy it”.

According to coordinator of the Living Room for Refugees Marcel Berends, the main focus is on organising activities. “Opposite our building is a bicycle store where workshops are given. A car mechanic from Summa College has also visited us on occasion. This way we let the refugees without status gain more knowledge and try to give them training in some sense. It is not a hangout here. If you sit on your phone all the time, your world is not going to look different after six months”.

Language lessons
One of the most visited activities are the Dutch language lessons given every week. About forty volunteers help with these. “There are three blocks in which lessons are given. We also have language buddies who can help refugees individually. After a year and a half, they are allowed to take an exam to get their language diploma”, Berends said. But vice versa, Berends also learns something from them. “I learned the Arabic language by dealing with refugees a lot. That way I can greet them in their own language”.

Community centre
According to Berends, the living room has taken on a kind of community centre purpose. “On Thursdays we have a coffee club where elderly people from the senior apartments next door regularly join us. We also have a sewing workshop where even the neighbour has her pants shortened”.

The Living Room for Refugees is not just a place you walk in and out of. “Newcomers get an intake. This gives us a better idea of what the refugees want and need. After two months, there is a follow-up meeting for the further process”, Berends said.

When refugees leave, the foundation still tries to keep in touch. “Often that is through Facebook. Some have gotten the right papers and have built their own lives. It’s nice to see how people are doing who have left here again”.

Source: Studio040

Translated by: Bob

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