Connecting local responses around the world
Humanity and Unity pushing through bureaucracy
SALT WITH COFFEE AND POPCORN
The odeurs of fresh coffee and crusty popped popcorn have filled the room - the steam causing the alarm to warn for ‘danger’. People in the room continue what they were doing with a smile on the face. Calm serenity. The concierge and neighbors will know the traditional Eritrean coffee is ready and that the inhabitants must have a good reason to celebrate. Perhaps one of their family members has reached the Netherlands and is reunited with his or her spouse or parent.
Recently the inhabitants of the co-housing building in a small town next to the international Dutch airport Schiphol more often have reasons to celebrate. They are grateful for the people from the Dutch Refugee Council*, who in turn are grateful for the SALT approach, that a different, strength based way to supporting the integration of (former) refugees has allowed them to succeed in more and more cases to reunite with family members.
The group of people is diverse, mostly from Eritrean background, having travelled the way to safety via wars and prisons often on their own. After a long period of waiting they have obtained permission to stay in the Netherlands. Volunteers and staff of the refugee council accompany them while they seek their way through obligations and possibilities in their new home country. Some of the facilitators were trained in SALT and, in 2017, approached the inhabitants with the question: “What is your dream”. An offending question to some: “How can you ask me to dream? My loved ones are not here. They are probably not safe”.
The presence of SALT facilitators in good and bad times with the group, created room for individual stories, worries and dreams to be spoken. The frustration of not being able to show the required papers for family reunion to the Dutch immigration authorities for the mere fact that those papers did not exist was a red thread in all stories.
“Before, we would have stamped on the door of Dutch authorities to bring this injustice to their notice. We would have raised our voice, on behalf of those people” says Letje. “Now, SALT brought us the challenge of encouraging them to tell themselves their individual story, to collect those individual stories and to bring them as one story to the government. Well, this worked much better! Even to the extent that not only the people who shared their stories are seeing their family members coming back - their stories have led to a policy change that helps all Eritreans who are in the Netherlands in a similar situation”.
Her colleague Yazeed adds: “Letting go, and trust, is not easy. At one occasion I even left the house when inhabitants asked me to write a letter on their behalf to protest against the bad quality of their co-housing”. Yazeed told them: ‘I have my life. I return to my own house. This is your problem’, closed the door and walked away. “I was not sure…. But one week later they came back to me. ‘You were right, Yazeed’. We have finished our letter!”
Also in this case action was taken by refugees themselves and not by another person for them - and the power of humanity and unity pushed through distant policies. Members of the municipality, touched by their case, granted the inhabitants individual housing in their town.
While the coffee pot turns round, the stories pop up. A young man, using his first Dutch words, tells how happy he is, after years of prison in Israel, to be reunited with his wife who arrived before him in the Netherlands. And, what a surprise: “When I landed at Schiphol not only my wife was there: a whole community of new friends was waiting to welcome me in the arrival hall!” His wife, stirring the beans, adds: “But I can still not say I am proud of this achievement. My happiness is not complete. Not all my friends have their loved ones here, I will stand along with them in their fight!”