Campus reporter Christina Kordes highlights Right2Education, an organization working to support refugees in Amsterdam to get accustomed to and settle in the Netherlands.
Leaving your home behind and coming to a new country is never easy. Refugees and asylum seekers are often faced with many challenges. One organization trying to make the start in Amsterdam easier for these people is Right2Education (R2E).
This student-led organization offers free English and Dutch language courses for people with refugee backgrounds. All teachers are volunteers and students at the University of Amsterdam (UvA), Vrije Universiteit (VU) or Amsterdam University College (AUC).
20-year-old Esme first got involved with R2E as an English teacher and is now a Board Member. She says one special feature of the organization is that they take students who don’t have papers. “There are not a lot of other places that do that. This way we can offer classes to any student with a refugee background even if they have no paperwork to prove it.”
Other than language classes, they also organize social events and run a ‘Buddy Programme’. For this program, they partner up their language students with another student from the different universities in Amsterdam. “They can go to social events together, get to know the city or just chat every now and again. This way we are building a community and learning a language is always easier when you talk to people,” says Esme.
R2E works closely with the Asylum Seeker Centre in Amsterdam and they often refer new students to the organization. At the moment, many hostels have also been putting up posters to let refugees from Ukraine know about the free language courses. “We also have a sign-up form on our website, but most people come because they heard about us from friends who have been taking classes with us,” says Esme.
AUC is a major supporter of the organization. They provide the rooms for classes and offer R2E students free spots in their own language courses. Esme states: “We are not run by the university but the AUC helps us enormously, primarily by offering our students classes when they have free spots available. We are waiting for the UvA and the VU to do the same.”
The students who make use of the R2E classes come from very different backgrounds. Currently, a lot of students come from Ukraine, Syria, Turkey, Yemen or Eritrea. “We want to support refugees from all backgrounds,” says Esme. Teaching them Dutch and English can be an important first step in helping them feel comfortable in their new environment.
The feeling of arriving in Amsterdam and having to get accustomed to the new environment is familiar to 18-year-old Pakistani student Raaed who came to Amsterdam in August 2021 and is now studying PPLE at the UvA.
“There are a lot of reasons for happiness,” he says. “Amsterdam is a beautiful city and people here can be so nice to me for no reason.” However, he also struggles with many bureaucratic and structural issues. Raaed left his home country in June 2015 and first moved to Saudi Arabia with his family because his parents found work there. Then in 2021, they came to the Netherlands. “My family had to go back to Saudi-Arabia because of health reasons, so now it is only me in the Netherlands.”
Getting settled in Amsterdam was quite difficult for him sometimes. “If I could change one thing about Dutch politics regarding migration then I would make the requirements for registration easier. It was really difficult for me to open a bank account or register for a flat.”
At the moment, Raaed is taking a gap year because of mental health reasons, but he is planning on getting back into his studies in the next academic year. His advice for other migrants getting started in the Dutch educational system is to learn to understand the Dutch system and the culture. “Dutch people can be very direct which can lead to a shock for people from other cultures who are not used to that.”
The Buddy Programme from R2E can be one step toward helping new students understand the system at Dutch universities better and to get started in Amsterdam. R2E has seen a growth in participants this year in comparison to the years before, therefore they are always looking for students to get involved as buddies.
Esme says: “It is a small job and it doesn’t take much time. It’s just like having another friend.” Each buddy can decide for themselves how much time they want to invest into the program. “We see that these partnerships are very valuable for everyone involved and it really helps our students to have one person they can talk to.” Any student can sign up for the program through the website or message R2E on Instagram.