Asylum seekers to be fully included into Utrecht society
Utrecht is the first city in the Netherlands to start integrating asylum seekers into society from their first day in the city. The city wants to put an end to the current practice of asylum applicants being moved about and integration starting late. "When you arrive in Utrecht, you stay in Utrecht", GroenLinks alderman Kees Diepeveen said to the Volkskrant. "This creates peace. For school-age children, being dragged around is very dramatic."
The city's plan involves immediately starting education for asylum seekers and extra activities specifically designed to help them get used to Utrecht society. The municipality also made arrangements with the COA, the central agency responsible for the reception of asylum seekers, that asylum seekers living in Utrecht emergency shelters will also be housed in shelters in the city and stay there if they are given refugee status.
The city is opening a new emergency shelter in Overvecht in July. The shelter will house 400 asylum seekers as well as 25 young people from the neighborhood. They are asked to make contact with the newcomers. This shelter will provide housing for 2.5 years.
The Utrecht University will provide courses in the former office building on, for example, entrepreneurship. Training will be provided in English and cover subjects that will be useful to asylum seekers whether they're allowed to stay in the Netherlands or return to their home country. Classes will be made up of asylum seekers and young people from Overvecht. The municipality will also organize additional activities for neighborhood residents in the adjacent community center, to increase support for the asylum center.
"We are pleased with this great initiative", a spokesperson for the COA said to the newspaper. As a rule the COA only organizes that refugees stay in the same municipality they were sheltered in as asylum seekers if all their relatives live in that municipality. "But we'll see what is possible."
Utrecht submitted an application to the European Union for 3.5 million euros in funding for this project. But even if the funding does not go through, the project will continue, if in a somewhat smaller form, Dipeveen said.
Oxford University will study what effect Utrecht's additional efforts have on asylum seekers' integration into society and neighborhood residents' feelings on the matter.