123 refugees in University Sport Centre
Preparations for receiving 123 refugees in the University Sport Centre have been in full swing for several days. The large sports hall will be transformed into a dormitory, and a living and dining area. There will also be two recreation areas, one for adults and one for children.
The refugees are coming from a short-stay reception area in Zoeterwoude and will stay in the University Sport Centre (USC) from 23 October to 30 October. After that, they will leave Leiden for yet another – so far unknown – destination. The group – 123 people, 40 of whom are single males and the rest families - originate from such countries as Syria, Mongolia, Eritrea, Iraq, Afghanistan and Serbia.
A team of staff from the University and student volunteers are working hard in the USC to make sure the refugees are given a warm welcome. The sports hall was being used for exams up until 4.30 on Friday afternoon; as soon as the exams were over, the volunteers set to the task ahead, full of enthusiasm. There was a lot to do: from organising WIFI to signposts in Arabic, from comfortable settees to give the place a homely feel to putting together an activity programme.
It’s a hive of activity Friday afternoon in the USC. While the students stand around in groups animatedly discussing the exams they have just taken, volunteers are milling about carrying boxes, shifting furniture arranging things. The first beds are brought in and are parked temporarily in the restaurant that has been transformed into a living room, complete with Persian carpets. The guests can even watch TV via a projector.
Children's play area
Upstairs students are busily arranging a children’s play area. EL CID has emptied their storeroom: beanbags and cushions, settees, tables and chairs are all set out and the floor is covered with a carpet of soft picnic blankets. The whole area is awash with toys donated by local Leiden people.
Experience shows that boredom is the biggest problem for the refugees; their whole life is taken up with waiting, waiting and more waiting. To make the refugees’ time in Leiden as pleasant as possible, the University and the 200 or so volunteers, many of whom are students, are organising a daily activity programme for different age groups: sports, a visit to a student house, craft activities with the children, a tour of the city, and much more. Students of Arabic have also volunteered to act as interpreters. In all, more than 700 people have volunteered to help. Some of the volunteers will be on hand in the USC to talk with the refugees.
There is a whiteboard in one of the offices listing all the arrangements: Leiden International Short Film Experience is organising a mini film festival, Amnesty International is arranging an introduction to the Netherlands, and the PvdA is coming to play football. There are so many different organisations that all want to do their bit. The Faculty of Science is investigating whether highly educated refugees can spend a day in the biology or chemistry labs; Social and Behavioural Sciences have collected clothes and toys, and the specialists from the LUMC are available from 23 to 30 October for free consultations.
Different locations for exams
The arrival of the refugees has meant a lot of reorganisation. In the week of 26 October 7,757 students were due to take exams in the USC. Instead, the exams will be held in the Hooglandse Kerk, the Pieterskerk and the Holiday Inn hotel. Some 4,500 sports enthusiasts will have to find alternative locations for their sporting activities (outdoors in the sports fields, or in Plex-fit) or skip a week. The USC will be open for longer in the Christmas break to give people the opportunity to make up for lost sports time.
Jeroen ’t Hart, Director of Student and Educational Affairs, commented: ‘It is heart-warming to see how committed everyone is: the staff at the USC, the programme offices, students, sports enthusiasts. We are getting a lot of positive reactions and we are delighted with all the volunteers who have come forward.’
(CH+MH / Photos Monique Shaw)