The USRK (Utrechtse Stedelijke Raad van Kerken), the largest Christian Ecumenical organization in Utrecht, has been discussing the recent Refugee crisis and blessing for Utrecht and wondering about possible responses by the churches. The following letter has recently been issued, which summarizes ways in which we can work together for good. (This is an English translation of the Dutch original which can be found by clicking here.)
REFUGEE INFORMATION LETTER TO THE CHURCHES IN THE CITY OF UTRECHT
September 23rd, 2015
Shelter and care for refugees in the Beatrix Building
September 23, 2015
Dear Churches and Faith Communities,
Because of the arrival of the 500 refugees to the Beatrix building in Utrecht, churches and religious communities have come together for a joint effort in the care of these refugees. The Diaconaal Platform Utrecht (DPU), supported by the Salvation Army and the Utrecht Municipal Council of Churches (USRK) are coordinating this effort with two priorities:
- Provide the Utrecht churches with information from the Centraal Orgaan opvang asielzoekers (COA), the City of Utrecht, Vluchtelingenwerk (a volunteer organization working with Refugees) and the Red Cross regarding the needs of refugees;
- The coordination and management of the offers of help of churches in the direction of the COA and the City of Utrecht.
It is beyond the ability of our small team tasked with this to set up all kinds of initiatives. But we believe in the power of faith communities, stemming from our beliefs, to provide support and a home for these refugees. We hope this letter will inform you of what the situation for the reception of refugees in Utrecht is now, and where the participation of churches is possible and desirable. An important source of information is our weekly team meetings with COA, municipality of Utrecht, Vluchtelingenwerk, Red Cross and representatives of volunteer organizations. We participate in these meetings, and will inform you, so that together, as churches, we can help!
There are many offers of help!
We have heard that the churches would like to show their commitment to the group of asylum seekers who are staying at the Beatrix building – fantastic! As churches in Utrecht we are certainly not alone in this – there are thousands of people who want to help and a lot of different organizations who want to help to streamline this. With them, we are cooperating and consulting with the municipality about how we can contribute. As churches we don’t want to waste our effort by doing what is already being done well by others, but rather to help in vital ways that other organizations are not or can not.
What are the needs?
COA provides the primary care for the men in the hall, with all the basic necessities. Vluchtelingenwerk is present and together with COA will start conducting the first interviews with the refugees to inform them about legal matters. The first need of the refugees is clarity about the asylum procedure. The problem is that there is not complete clarity from the government about this yet. For that reason it is good that there are other activities for the men as they wait. This should be also the consideration when thinking about the activities that can be offered by volunteers. Activities cannot be offered in the hall and not even conversations. Realize that the space where they are staying is a large dormitory for 500 men.
What can we do as churches?
Gradually this is becoming clearer. There is a website set up where all the questions and offers of help will be posted (www.welkominutrecht.nu). It is a good place to make known what the churches are doing to offer help. In addition, we, as coordinators, would like to hear what is being done by the churches. We will keep faith communities also aware of the offers and activities that other churches undertake, so all can see, and to personalize it, or link it, or supplement it. You can always inform us of concrete actions you are taking via the contact details at the bottom of this letter.
For now we see the following practical possibilities:
- Collection of goods by the churches
As a church you can organize a collection. This can be done concretely on Sunday mornings, but also by individual members asking others to bring things.
There is a need for the following:
- Winter jackets (not too big)
- New underwear
- New socks
With regard to clothes, remember that in the Utrecht shelter, there are only men.
In addition, there is also a need for games. This should be international games, such as checkers, chess, triominos, small table football game (www.action.nl/tafelvoetbal-50-5x31x9-5cm)
All things that are collected can be delivered at the Red Cross shop:
- Speaking with refugees
We are in discussion with one church about a space to have coffee and conversation for a number of sessions per week. If you would you like to contribute to this initiative you can send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org
It is important that you have some knowledge of languages, at least English, and that you can commit
to a few days (or part of a day) per week. If so, you could email the same address giving your name, phone and email address and the shifts in the day (i.e. mornings and/or afternoons) for which you could be available.
- Commitment Salvation Army
The Salvation Army is looking at how they can support the relief efforts. More information will follow. Now there is a specific vacancy for volunteers for the clothes sorting, see:
The volunteer Christian organization “Stichting Present” is preparing an ‘eat-and-meet-action’! When this is finalized it will be reported on the site www.welkominutrecht.nu
- Church initiatives
If you are going to organize your own initiative as a church, we are happy to help you to find the right starting point, ideas and people. You can email us at email@example.com. You can also use the site mentioned above, www.welkominutrecht.nu, to log your activity.
- Services and celebrations
We also hear of churches that have invited people for their services on Sunday. This is a possibility for the coming weeks. Perhaps special services could be arranged for the refugees.
We look forward to following this and other activities organized by churches. If you contact us by email, we can provide you with an overview of the involvement of churches.
For now this is the information that we can pass on. There are new developments happening almost daily. We will by glad to keep you informed.
Leon Ball, on behalf of the USRK, firstname.lastname@example.org
Ageeth Weelink, on behalf of the Salvation Army Utrecht and Diaconaal platform Utrecht