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The Netherlands

Working in support of refugee children living in the Netherlands as part of the TeamUp coalition.

National context

The Netherlands has welcomed tens of thousands of asylum seekers since the refugee crisis began in 2015. Some 21,000 refugees are currently being housed in Dutch asylum centres - more than 7,000 of whom are under the age of 18. The majority of these refugees have arrived from Syria, Afghanistan, Eritrea and Iraq - and have undertaken long, arduous journeys in search of sanctuary.

Sadly, the chaos and uncertainty these people experience doesn’t end once they arrive in the Netherlands. They have been exposed to the effects of war-related violence both in their countries of origin and during their journeys to safety.

The process of becoming officially registered as a refugee is also fraught with difficulty. Parents and children are often moved from shelter to shelter as their cases are being heard - with children acutely affected by the anxiety their parents experience during this process. 

Situation of children

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states that governments have a duty of care towards children and must uphold their rights at all times. Yet the social and emotional needs of refugee children are all too often overlooked.

Child refugees are the ones who are most exposed to stress triggers during their journeys to safety. They carry with them stresses and feelings that are not always quickly identified - which often develop into acute emotional problems.

The uncertainty and stress these children experience does not end once they arrive in the Netherlands. Children often have to move from shelter to shelter and are separated from friends and teachers - leading to feelings of unhappiness and stress. 


What we do

TeamUp was launched in 2016 as a collaboration between War Child, Save the Children and UNICEF Netherlands. The project was designed to meet the urgent needs of refugee children who have arrived in the Netherlands - in particular their social and emotional needs. In their countries of origin and during their journeys to safety they have been exposed to (war) violence, abuse and many stressful situations.

TeamUp provides children in asylum centres aged between six and eighteen with structured recreational activities, such as sports, games and movement activities. Each activity has a certain goal based on emotional themes and specific behavioural skills. These activities help provide children with emotional support and a much-needed sense of stability.

Our projects


TeamUp provides children in asylum centres aged between six and eighteen with structured recreational activities. These activities:

• Provide stability and structure to allow children to live as children once again 
• Support children to build the resilience to deal with sources of stress such as bullying, anger and fear 
• Reduce the likelihood of children developing long-term psychosocial issues 
• Ensure that children who need dedicated social-emotional support are identified and referred to the proper authorities

The structured activities for children in shelters are implemented by trained volunteer facilitators. A robust system for volunteer recruitment, training and guidance is in place - which sees our facilitators trained to identify specific signs of stress the children may display.

2017 saw 1,641 children participate in more than 660 TeamUp sessions at 20 asylum centres. In addition, 56 children were referred to relevant authorities for children displaying signs of significant stress.

2018 will see TeamUp expand to 32 locations in the Netherlands. In addition, the international roll-out of the project will begin in Uganda and South Sudan. We are also exploring possibilities in the occupied Palestinian territories.

TeamUp in School 2017 also saw the launch of TeamUp in School - a pilot in seven Dutch schools which sees the project methodology applied to support newcomers to primary education. This pilot will be extended in 2018.

Voices of children

Evi Just Wants to Play

Evi made the dangerous voyage across water from Syria to Europe. She was forced to travel in a small boat with 50 people.

“We sat huddled and crammed on the ground,” she recalls. “Then we had five days of walking without eating and sleeping.”

Together with her father and eight-year-old sister Evi arrived safely in the Netherlands - but she was forced to leave her mother and two other sisters behind in Syria. ”I do not want to talk about it; I miss Mom,” she says.

Evi now lives in an asylum reception centre. There she participates in the weekly TeamUp activities. Full of excitement she asks: “Today is Tuesday, right? Then its playtime!”

The various activities - including sports, games and dance - ensure that the children interact more and make new friends. Evi is proud that she has “at least twenty” girlfriends in the centre. TeamUp provides Evi with stability and a means to process her distressing experiences.

“The best part is that we ourselves are asked what we like to play... That makes me happy.”