A look at the emergency response center; ‘It’s nice to see that these kids can still be a little kid despite the appalling situation’

Behind the fences covered with black tarpaulin, dozens of children race on bicycles, tractors, scooters and go-karts. With temperatures below freezing, many play outside without a jacket, in shorts or sandals. Still, the cold must not spoil the fun, because the young refugees rush across the tarmac with a big smile.

Not surprisingly, the exterior is teeming with children; the emergency shelter on the dike can accommodate 225 asylum seekers, half of whom are currently children. “Temporary residents from five different continents live in this place,” says location manager Jane Lobles. She gives a tour of the shelter. “We have deliberately chosen to accommodate families as much as possible. That’s why there are so many kids jumping around.”

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With temperatures below freezing, many play outside without a jacket, in shorts or sandals.

The shelter area consists of a large shed that serves as a living room, a white tent with sanitary facilities and bedrooms, and a staff building. All areas are connected by long bare corridors. Outside, a detached barn has been renamed ‘Het Krijspaleis’, a place where children can play when it rains, for example. Today, the barn is mainly used as a pit stop for the many tractors, scooters and bicycles.

Groundbreaking

Lobles begins the tour in his office. She draws a picture of what the days look like in the shelter. “We offer the three B’s as emergency shelter; bed, bath and bread. Our catering provides a meal three times a day, and volunteers organize activities in consultation. For example, there is an hour’s play with the children every day. Parents often sit in the front row and join in the fun. The hosts are the point of contact for the refugees during the day. They take the residents to doctor’s appointments, answer questions and keep an eye on the common areas. In addition, doctors, cleaners, firefighters and a caretaker are present daily. It is groundbreaking because my position was born out of necessity. Together with three others, I, as location manager, am ultimately responsible for the entire reception on site. A lot comes to us, and we regularly work long days, but this is no different.”

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Jane Lobles is one of the location managers at the Petten shelter.

It is a come and go shelter. “Space regularly becomes available when we reunite refugees with family or when they move to another place. In such situations, a bus arrives with new residents. The first thing we do on arrival is ask the driver how the trip went to gauge the atmosphere. We then receive the new refugees in a separate room. There they get a sandwich, because they have had a long journey. And then we have to start puzzling.”

Lobles says that it is quite a task to divide the residents into the different sleeping areas. There are three bunk beds in each bedroom, so there is room for six people. “In this shelter, there are people from five different continents, with different religions, ethnicities, and they speak different languages. We have to take that into account in order to maintain an overview, safety, calm and regularity,” says the location manager. “Puzzles often take hours , and unfortunately sometimes we have to say no. If there isn’t a match, we can’t offer a place to sleep and then we have to send people back. Of course, you don’t want that at all, and it’s no fun to break the bad news , but that’s still our job. We have to be strict. That’s the core business.”

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The children’s drawings brighten up the shared living room.

Trip

Time to take a look at the shelter. Lobles shows the way. “Every day there are more security guards keeping an eye on things,” she says. The strict rules seem to be working, because there is peace in the shelter. “Most residents spend the day in their room or in the common area. In the morning it is a bit noisier, then everyone showers and eats breakfast in different time blocks. This also applies to lunch and dinner.”

There are a number of washing racks in the corridor, which are adjacent to the sanitary facilities. Colorful clothes hang to dry. “Our residents’ clothes are washed once a week by an external company. We were asked by a number of women if they could wash their own clothes. It’s because they like to have something to do. Our caretaker Hiddo then put a number of washing racks on the floor and since then women have been washing themselves here and there. They do this by hand in the large sinks at the sanitary facilities.”

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Caretaker Hiddo has attached a series of washing racks to the floor so that residents can wash independently.

Most residents today sit in the common room. The walls are decorated with drawings that the children have made together with volunteers. There is a plant on every table and in the corner there is a Christmas tree that the residents got from the mayor.

A Syrian couple play ‘four in a row’. A little bored, they take turns placing the yellow and red discs in the playing frame. “We came to the Netherlands on October 27 and we have been living in this shelter for about five weeks now,” says the young woman (29). “The first weeks were chaotic because we didn’t have any hot water, but luckily that’s now resolved.”

Daycare

Her husband (31) says the days are long. “There’s not always anything to do and we wait. No one has answers to our questions and there are no courses we can follow. It’s frustrating.” Lobles explains why no courses are offered at the shelter. “In principle, we offer crisis response and are not involved in integration. We have quite a few volunteers who help with language learning, but that is not our task from the shelter. Initially, the shelter would only be open until the end of December.”

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Throughout the crisis center there are drawings that the children have made together with volunteers.

Giggling can be heard from the kitchen adjacent to the dining room. A group of female residents bakes Lebanese bread. “Usually people cook for the residents, but today we made an exception,” says Lobles. “We understand that they need their own food. The ladies have been in the kitchen for hours and it smells wonderful. This also happens under supervision.”

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Normally the residents cook, but today the women must bake.

The women are busy. Three kneaded balls of dough, while the fourth woman rolls out the balls with a rolling pin into a round flat bread. They say that they make bread for everyone who lives at the shelter and that they are happy to be able to come to work for a while.

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A group of female residents bakes Lebanese bread.

Meanwhile, the children are still busy playing outside. A little boy of about six warms his hands on a bowl of ready-made noodles. He shares the hot snack with his friends. With a large fork, he slides a bite of noodles into everyone. The boys love it.

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Jane Lobles looks at the children and says that quite a few children have learned to ride bicycles at the shelter.

At breakneck speed, the other children drive criss-crossing each other. Lobles begins to laugh. Many children have learned to ride a bicycle here. They run in circles all day and don’t know how to stop. They only play inside ‘Het Krijspaleis’ when it rains, but they prefer to be outside. It’s great to see that these kids can still be a little kid despite the appalling situation.”

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