The Samen Hier Student Community: “We are part of something bigger”
The Unicef Student Team The Hague noticed a strong willingness under students of the University of Leiden, International Institute of Social Studies, and The Hague University of Applied Sciences to help people with a refugee background. As a result, they contacted Justice & Peace to transform this willingness into concrete action together. This is how the Samen Hier Student Community came about, an initiative by and for students, that creates inclusive networks of students and students who were forced to flee. The Student Community is now a part of Samen Hier – the community sponsorship movement in the Netherlands that allows groups of friends to concretely contribute to safe havens and safe routes for a refugee (family). Besides the Samen Hier Student Community in the Hague, Justice & Peace is working on a European collaborative project in which universities, students, and companies realise a new form of community sponsorship, in which the safe arrival and study of refugee students are the main focus.
Samen Hier Community of over 40 Students
Recently, over forty participating (international) students and students with a refugee background attended the kick-off of the second edition of the Samen Hier Student Community in the Hague. Three to five students are matched with a newcomer, and they meet at least once a week. The duration of the student welcome group is thus shorter than the usual duration of a year; this better matches the students’ possibilities. The Unicef Student Team The Hague enhances the community feeling to plan fun events based on shared interests. In addition, the welcome groups provide the student newcomers with answers to practical questions, knowledge, and a bigger network.
Many of the participating students are themselves new to The Hague, or even the Netherlands. This immediately gives the feeling of equality. The pandemic has made clear that students and student newcomers face similar challenges. Manju, one of the founders, says:
“Though newcomers with a refugee background of course face very different challenges than international students during the COVID pandemic, many challenges are fundamentally the same. We started this programme in order to address our shared challenges — such as feelings of disconnection as well as isolation — to bridge students and newcomer refugees in genuine mutual exchange, and to spark connections and friendships. With this programme, we learned that changes could happen when we stand in solidarity with each other.”
“Refugee” is a status, not the person”
Mohammed is one of the newcomer refugees who is participating for the second time with the Samen Hier Student Community. When he first applied last year, he expected that it would take the form of a buddy-project where he would primarily be focused on learning the Dutch language. Mohammed was pleasantly surprised when he became involved in a real sustainable community. He not only learned the language, but he could come to his group with all his questions. The first group created a strong network for him, and he is still in contact with them: ‘This is not a programme you join and after a semester it is done. It is something bigger, we are part of something bigger. Once the semester is over, you still have someone to turn to with all your questions.’’
Mohammed’s expectations are a bit different this time: ‘I expect that I will get to know new people and that I can learn from their experiences. But the difference with the first time I participated is that I also have more knowledge now. We should not forget that “refugee” is a status and not the person. I will not be a refugee forever, someday I will be able to welcome people. The previous time I needed more help and this time I can also support newcomers.’’
New Samen Hier community sponsorship variant
The Samen Hier Student Community in The Hague and the participating involved students work on a strong foundation for sustainable and equal relations. Justice & Peace is currently working with a European consortium on a new Samen Hier community sponsorship variant in which the safe arrival and study of refugee students are the primary focus. The success of and enthusiastic stories from the Samen Hier Student Community in The Hague show that there is a lot of willingness amongst students to welcome and support refugee newcomers. This is a very promising starting point for larger student community sponsorship initiatives.