No gym, but housing units: this is how Oventje welcomes asylum seekers

Not a gym full of camp beds, but condominiums with privacy. The emergency crisis shelter in the small village of Oventje near Zeeland appears to be an example for the Netherlands of how to improve emergency shelter. From mid-August, the entire shelter will be moved to Doetinchem. But two other municipalities in Gelderland and Limburg also said they wanted to adopt the Machurst municipality’s method of reception.

It is now a well-known picture of when there is an emergency shelter for asylum seekers somewhere. Rows of camp beds in a gymnasium that may have a spacer between them. When it recently came to Machurst municipality’s turn for emergency shelter in a crisis situation, they wanted to do things differently.

Since the end of June, a large tent has been erected in the reserve stadium of the football club Festilent outside the village of ‘t Oventje. Not that those separate units are very luxuriously furnished. Inside there are five camp beds, two iron lockers and a table with chairs. One family lives in such a housing unit. They have their own place to sleep and stay during the day. However, it is a huge step forward compared to the gym.

“Not lying side by side in a gym with 150 people all day and night.”

We saw the consequences of the reception at the gym. Often a large area. Because we didn’t like the noise and the limited privacy, we decided we wanted to do things differently,” says project leader Marcel van der Steen from the municipality of Machurst.

“You can really see that the asylum seekers are happy with the units,” says Marieke Waters, site manager. “They say they like being able to retreat to their own space and not lie side by side with 150 people all night in the gym.”

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“We receive about three requests every day from municipalities who want to come and have a look.”

The shelter was initially there for three weeks. But Mayor Paul Robb decided last week to extend this until August 17. According to him, the dragging of refugees through the Netherlands must stop. He would rather give refugees a longer stay in a more humane and private shelter than in a camp bed in a gym.

Marcel van der Steen is well aware that other municipalities are now keeping a close eye on how they handle things in Machurst. We receive about three requests every day from municipalities who want to come and have a look. We are very proud of that.”

This concept is now being followed elsewhere. When the asylum seekers leave after August 17, the central tent and the units on the truck go to Doetinchem to be rebuilt again as an emergency shelter. Two other municipalities in Limburg and Gelderland will also establish emergency shelters in the manner of Machurst.

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