Report on the study visit to The Netherlands, 26th September – 1st October 2023

On the occasion of the 10th Anniversary of Barka NL (Stichting Barka), a study visit involving the international Barka network, co-funded by the EU Erasmus Plus programme, took place with the following participants: Barka NL, Barka UK, Barka Ireland, the Barka For Mutual Aid Foundation in Poland and Barka Germany

By Anna McKeever

Tuesday, 26th September

Most groups travelled on the day and reached their accommodation in the afternoon or in the evening.

Wednesday, 27th September

The participants in the study visit were divided into small groups and, along with Barka Leaders from individual cities, participated in the patrols of their mobile groups and visited day centres, where they could directly observe the work of Barka NL and ask questions related to helping homeless immigrants in the Netherlands. The cities visited by the groups were: Groningen, The Hague, Eindhoven, Utrecht, Rotterdam, Gouda, Rozendaal & Antwerp.

In The Hague, Barka NL, under the leadership of Larisa, is co-creating, in co-operation with the city and two other organisations, a project involving the New Generation Multicultural Centre for Migrants. We also saw a modern-day centre for homeless people created in a Protestant church in Rotterdam.

We ended the day in a special way by meeting together in the evening for dinner and sharing our impressions and experiences with others, in addition to welcoming those who had arrived in the Netherlands that afternoon.

Thursday, 28th September

All participants in the study visit arrived, along with Barka NL employees and volunteers, in Utrecht in the morning, where a conference was held to celebrate the 10th Anniversary of Barka in the Netherlands. The conference was hosted by Ziggy Klazes, a TV presenter, and opened by Rachel Streefland, the Commissioner of Social Affairs, who welcomed the guests on behalf of Utrecht City Council. Ewa Sadowska-Keogh welcomed the participants on behalf of the Barka Management Board.

The conference was also attended by: Magdalena Chwarścianek-Mitov, Director of Barka NL and Barka Belgium, who gave an overview of the history of the creation of Barka NL and its activities in The Netherlands. Barbara Sadowska, whom the conference host interviewed, talked about the mission of Barka and the organisation’s beginnings in Poland over 30 years ago.

Piotr Śmigielski (whose nickname is No. 7), told his story of meeting Barka and gave an account of the changes which had taken place in his life, along with some challenging moments and his work for Barka now as a Leader.

The next stage of the programme, entitled: “Employees from Central and Eastern Europe in difficult situations” prepared by Elske Witts, a senior researcher at the Research Institute in The Hague, involved the presentation of research results. Between the speeches and presentations there was time for short performances by the violinist Ewa Pepper.

One interesting part of the programme was a panel discussion on offering better healthcare and shelter for homeless migrants from CEE countries, in which the following panellists participated: Monique van den Berg, Director of the EU Project for Economic Workers from The Hague, Ronald Smit, responsible for public health in the municipality of Utrecht, Sabine Beerbaum, from the Association of Dutch Municipalities and Cities, Ferdinand van de Velde, Head of the Salvation Army Day Centre in Utrecht, and Larisa Melinceanu, Coordinator of the ‘Returns’ Programme, which facilitates the return to the countries of origin of homeless migrants.

Friday, 29th September

In the morning, we started the day with a visit to the Salvation Army Day Centre in Utrecht, where the head of the facility described its activities and the manner in which homeless migrants are looked after, along with their rights or rather the lack of them, and cooperation with the Barka NL staff who work at the centre.

From Utrecht we took a train to the Barka NL office in The Hague, where we were joined by Barka NL leaders and their assistants, along with some employees and volunteers. The 10th birthday of Barka NL was celebrated in a grand fashion in the office in the Hague.

After lunch and numerous conversations, it was time for a birthday cake (or even two!) and a group photo. We had the opportunity to learn more about the work of the Barka NL employees in The Hague and the crucial work of Barka volunteers.

After this meeting, it was time for a brief visit to the seaside promenade in The Hague before returning to our hotels.

Saturday, 30th September

On Saturday morning we went to Amsterdam for the whole day, meeting a Polish-speaking guide at the station and exploring the city centre.

After the sightseeing tour and a short coffee break, we went to the canal embankment where a boat was waiting for us. We had lunch on the vessel and admired the many beautiful views of Amsterdam and its canals.

Our leaders were presented with special certificates for completing the study visit – it was also time to exchange our experiences and impressions of visiting Barka NL and the Netherlands.

Niedziela, 1 października

Czas wyjazdu/wylotu dla wszystkich uczestników wizyty studyjnej. Dziękujemy całemu zespołowi Barki NL za przygotowanie super ciekawego, pouczającego i integracyjnego pobytu w Holandii oraz za okazaną cierpliwość, życzliwość i piękne wspomnienia które ze sobą zabraliśmy.