‘Because of my job I know a little bit about everything’ Leon is 19 years old and already has a permanent job at the Immigration and Naturalisation Service…
They are very worried about family who are still in Ukraine.
It is half past 8 when Ruth gets on her bike to A&O Hostel in Amsterdam-Zuidoost, a borough of Amsterdam. The hostel is currently serving as a reception centre for asylum seekers. There are around 600 asylum seekers from all sorts of countries. Since the war in Ukraine this also includes 130 Ukrainians. Her aim for today: answering questions of the Ukrainians there and help them to find their way with the question of how to arrange their stay.
When Ruth enters, it is still quiet in the hostel. A staff member of the night shift tells her that the last Ukrainian arrived at half past 2 that night. For them, a bed still needed to be arranged quickly. Now everyone is still at rest, but when breakfast is served in the dinner room at 10.00, the first people start trickling in. Ruth makes a round through the room together with a volunteer who acts as an interpreter. She explains that she is from the IND and that people can come to her with questions about their right of residence. She tapes a sheet of paper with ‘IND’ on it to a table with staff from the local council of Amsterdam and the Red Cross at it as well. Ruth is ready.
During lunch, Ruth tells about her experiences this morning. ‘Insecurity is hard for the refugees,’ she says. ‘They are tired from the long journey and all they went through. In addition, they’re very worried about family who are still in Ukraine Everyone is continually looking at their mobile phones to check if everything is still fine with those who stayed behind. Now, social media are more important than ever.’
Ruth tells how a Ukrainian sailor came to her this morning. ‘He worked on a ship, was in the Netherlands now and did not know how to arrange his stay. “I would like to work here,” he said. “You don’t have to care for me.” I explained to him that that is, unfortunately, not possible. He is currently staying here as a visa-free visitor and then you’re not allowed to work. At the moment, a separate scheme for Ukrainians is being considered on a political level, but it is not there yet. As soon as things have become clearer, we can look at the options.’
It is an answer that Ruth had to give more often. ‘Everyone wants to know: what is my status and what do I have to do? There was an elderly lady, for example. Her daughter lives in the Netherlands, but she doesn’t have enough space for her to move in. She was wondering whether she had to apply for asylum already. She was very sad. I first take the time for that. Then I explain that she does not have to apply for asylum immediately; she can also do it later. You don’t waste time: for now it is best to wait and see which option is the best. Many people think they will have clarity faster with an asylum application, but that is not the case. Because of the uncertain situation in Ukraine and the suspension of decisions, it will take long and the outcome is not certain. So much work is being done on this target group now that a pause is a good option for the moment.’
And then there are people with completely different questions. ‘A man drove to Ter Apel by car to apply there,’ Ruth tells. ‘From Ter Apel he was taken to Amsterdam by bus, but his car was still there. I explained to him that to our regrets we can’t take him to Ter Apel, but that he can travel by public transport for free when he shows his Ukrainian passport. It may be a big undertaking, but then he will have his car back.’
At the end of the day, Ruth’s work is done. ‘The work requires a lot of exertion,’ she says. ‘Not everyone is as good at English and there is not always someone available to interpret. But the work is incredibly gratifying. Today, several people came to me to express their gratitude. “You are a good and beautiful country,” someone said. Unfortunately, I can only make a limited contribution, but at the end of the day people feel seen and heard. They could tell their story and I could reassure them. This is the best part of my work: it’s meaningful and valuable. You can really do something for someone in a difficult situation. I can’t think of a better motivation.’
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