As you all know, in recent years there has been a huge uptick in the number of refugees coming to Europe. From donating bags to refugees in Brussels, to volunteering on Lesvos island in Greece, to the UUFP joining the Refugee Task Force in Paris, EUU members across Europe have been and are volunteering their time and energy to help refugees settle in and adapt to their new homes. Watch this space in future issues for more stories from our members (and if you’d like to write about your own experiences, please get in touch!). Today, we hear from Gevene Hertz about her and John’s experience in Denmark

By Gevene Hertz
EUU Member at Large

Sandholm Red Cross Asylum Center north of Copenhagen, Denmark

John and I volunteer in the Asylum Department of the Danish Red Cross. We live less than 15 minutes by car from the main asylum center in Denmark, the Sandholm Center. It is now an “intake” center: anyone who seeks asylum in Denmark comes there first until they are transferred to another center. When we started volunteering, most of the refugees came from Syria, but now we are back to the “normal” situation of people coming from a wide range of countries.

John and I go there one day a week for several hours to work in the “Info café”. When there was a big stream of people arriving, this functioned as a place where they could wait more comfortably while waiting to see someone in the office or to register with the police. We volunteers provided coffee, tea, some toys for the children, a place to change babies, etc. We were also able to provide information about Denmark, the asylum process, and so on.

Info café
Corner of info café
Children’s section of info café

Now there are fewer people arriving, so the place is not as crowded as it was, but there can still be 25 people or so there at one time. The info cafe is no longer a source of information, but more of a lounge, with PCs, card games, table football, backgammon, and the like. The PCs are always fully occupied, and we frequently have to help people print documents or find information. We still provide coffee and tea, and we still get to chat with people about how it’s going, but because we are no longer next to the Red Cross reception office, but rather in a building that’s more in the middle of the center, we don’t see people as they arrive at the gates, which is when they need information about where to present themselves.

The café is still seen as very useful, however. It gives people a place to go instead of just hanging around in their rooms, and although we can’t give any official guidance or advice about their cases, we can provide a sympathetic ear and listen to people who want to tell their stories. Sometimes we can also direct them to other volunteer organizations that can help them make their case for needing asylum.

I also go up there every Monday evening from 7 to 9 to work at the Monday Café (everything is a “café”). That’s a little different: we have tea, coffee, and cookies, of course, but we also have music, dancing, more games, toys and games for children, etc. It’s more lively! Last time I went, it was quite packed—about 50 people, including a dozen children. It’s wonderful to see people in a hard situation having a chance to enjoy themselves.

Door to Monday café
Kurdish dancing

Another thing I do locally, but not as actively as I should, is attend get-togethers for newcomers (i.e., refugees) and old-timers in my town. This is part of the Venligbo movement. “Venligbo” means “friendly inhabitants”: the name is a play on words from Vendelbo, which is the name for inhabitants of Vendsyssel, in Northern Jutland, where the movement started. This is a grassroots movement of people who are upset at the direction the government is going with refugees and want to show that there are friendly people here in Denmark to help them.

Overall, John and I find the volunteering very enriching, and we’re happy to be able to help those who need it and who sometimes just need a friendly face. Getting to know other volunteers has also made me feel better integrated in Denmark!

John with another volunteer