A young asylum seeker in Ter Apel, Netherlands | Photo: Petra Katanic/Copyright: De Vrolijkheid
A young asylum seeker in Ter Apel, Netherlands | Photo: Petra Katanic/Copyright: De Vrolijkheid

In the Netherlands, migrant children are finding ways to cope with "the new normal" under virus containment measures. Together with a local non-profit group they have come up with some creative solutions.

Around 200 kilometers northeast of Amsterdam, the town of Ter Apel hosts the Netherlands' biggest residential reception center for asylum seekers.

Youth worker Gisele Azad normally spends a lot of time at the center creating art projects together with young asylum seekers. But several weeks ago, the camp was placed under a partial lock-down to contain the spread of coronavirus, and all visits from Azad's group "De Vrolijkheid" (Dutch for "happiness") were stopped.
Young asylum seeker in Ter Apel, Netherlands | Photo: Petra Katanic/Copyright: De VrolijkheidQuarantine karaoke

The ban led Azad and her team to come up with new ways to connect with the children in the Ter Apel center. They continued to focus on art, which Azad says "allows children to have the feeling that they can just let go of their situation and just be who they are, just be a kid."

A former asylum seeker herself, Azad adds that it was also important to maintain Vrolijkheid's "collective approach" in which everyone is equal.

Within a short time, the artists involved in the project developed all kinds of creative ideas using a range of tools, including building their own websites and even creating a karaoke video, Azad explains.Social isolation may be a bit boring but it can also be a very good time to learn some new skills the De Vrolijkheid website says  Screen shot from De VrolijkheidOne of the ideas was to create art packages, which were handed out to each child in the center. The art boxes contained paper, scissors and instructions to go with videos and online materials.

Thanks to fast, stable Internet, keeping in touch by digital means offered a good solution in Ter Apel. Fortunately, most young people in the asylum seeker facility also have smartphones, and some even have access to laptops or iPads, Azad says.

Just trying to help each other

For the children's part, they seem to be dealing well with the unusual and potentially isolating situation. "They understand that we just have to stay home and be careful when we go outside," Azad told InfoMigrants. "The good thing is that children don't really fully comprehend what is going on, so fortunately they don't really feel anything too negative."
Asylum seekers in Ter Apel, Netherlands | Photo: Petra Katanic/Copyright: De VrolijkheidMany of the asylum seekers staying at the Ter Apel center, even the children, have already known extreme hardship, Azad adds. "Some people have probably experienced much worse [than current virus measures], so sitting at home for them is not too bad," she says.

"We're just waiting and seeing how the situation will evolve. We're all just trying to help each other through this situation, and we're all equal in that way."

As of Thursday afternoon, the Netherlands had reported over 14,600 cases and 1,339 deaths from coronavirus.


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