A joint project from War Child, Save the Children and UNICEF Nederland to support refugee children living in the Netherlands.


The Netherlands has welcomed tens of thousands of asylum seekers since the refugee crisis began in 2015. The final months of 2016 have seen some 8,000 children housed in asylum centres across the country. The majority of these children have arrived from Syrian, Afghanistan and Iraq - and have undertaken long, arduous journeys in search of sanctuary. 

Sadly, the chaos and uncertainty these children 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. They carry with them feelings of fear and anxiety that are not always quickly identified - leading to problems much later. 
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. 

War Child, UNICEF Netherlands and Save the Children have developed TeamUp to give refugee children a much-needed sense of structure and stability and provide them with security and peace of mind. So that they can be a child again. 
Through our years of experience and global expertise, we know the importance of quickly reaching children with supportive activities. This is why TeamUp provides children in asylum centres aged between six and eighteen with recreational activities, such as sport, music and dance. 

The activities are scheduled at fixed times each week to provide children with a much-needed sense of stability and routine. This stability helps participating children to forget their bad experiences. They learn to make friends and trust other children and adults once again. 

Through our activities…

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

Our method

Work began on TeamUp in early 2016. We developed a programme based on our international experience which is represented in the programme Handbook and Gamebook. The Handbook contains background information on refugee children, the impact of stress on the development of children and the importance of structured recreational activities. In addition, the roles and responsibilities of volunteer programme facilitators in planning and organising the activities are also outlined.

The Gamebook features all the activities that make up the programme, together with guidance on implementation and supervision. Another element of the Gamebook is the ‘Decision Tree’ - this tool allows facilitators to select activities according to specific emotional themes. The sports, dance and musical activities selected contribute towards strengthening certain behavioural skills in the children taking part. This in turn improves their ability to cope with emotional issues they encounter in the asylum centres. 

The structured activities for children in shelters are implemented by trained volunteer facilitators. A system for volunteer recruitment, training and guidance is in place. Volunteers are trained and supervised by professional trainers. At least ten volunteer facilitators - with a background in working with refugee children - work at each reception centre. The facilitators are trained to recognise when children need specific help and know what to do when the children experience stress. 

Scaling Up the Programme 

We chose to launch TeamUp with a small-scale programme in five locations across the Netherlands - Ter Apel, Overberg, Sweikhuizen, Amsterdam and Tilburg. This allowed us to properly assess whether our approach would work in different contexts. The contexts within which refugee children live vary - from urban emergency shelters to asylum centres in rural areas. Other locations are intended exclusively for ‘unaccompanied minors’. 

TeamUp has now expanded to eight locations. The end of 2016 saw activities begin in Heerhugowaard, Alkmaar and Maastricht. All locations are chosen in consultation with the Central Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers (COA). Some 500 children are now taking part in our activities. These children have shown signs of positive change and are very enthusiastic. 
Next, we will conduct evaluations in order to refine and improve the programme - particularly with regard to methodology and implementation. 

Background Information

The children in the reception centres in the Netherlands come from various countries including Syria, Afghanistan, Eritrea and Iraq. The extent of the refugee crisis - and its impact on the Netherlands - is shown by the following statistics:- 

• The global number of refugees reached 21.3 million in 2015 
• More than half (51%) of these refugees are children
SOURCE: UNHCR Global Trends 2015 

There are currently more than 27,000 refugees being housed in Dutch asylum centres - and some 8,000 of these people are under the age of 18.
1,200 of these children arrived in the Netherlands without a parent or guardian. These children are classed as 'unaccompanied minors' and are housed in separate centres. 
SOURCE: Central Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers (COA), January 2017 

TeamUp needs your support. This will allow us to provide recreational activities to all refugee children in Dutch reception centres. As we expand TeamUp to more locations, we need funding:
• To provide initial and ongoing training to the supervisors and ensure they receive professional guidance and support;
• To ensure there is a toolkit with sports, games and dance materials in every location.

Stories of Refugee Children

Asim (8) was forced to flee Syria with his parents, brothers and sisters. In order to make the journey to Europe they had to share a rubber boat with 20 other people. The boat's capacity was for six. The smuggler who arranged everything told Asim’s mother that she would have to leave some of her children behind because there wasn’t enough room for everybody.

“My mother started crying and screaming,” Asim remembers. “She begged the man to take all of us on the journey. She told him ‘I don’t have to survive, but my children have to make it.’” 
Asim’s siblings were forced to share a life vest between the two of them. But it wouldn’t be enough to help them in the end - his brothers did not survive the journey. Together with several others, they fell out of the boat and drowned. 
Asim still can’t bring himself to talk about how his father was unable to save his younger brothers. But he still remembers exactly how scared he was. 
“The waves would wash over us, they were so high,” Asim recalls. “It was terrifying, especially at night, in the dark. We were also afraid that the coast guards would puncture and sink out boats.” He survived the trip but the experience has left its mark. “I used to love the sea. Now I hate water. I don’t even want to be close to it."

Evi (11) also had to make 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 had to leave her mother and two other sisters behind in Syria because they could not come. ”I do not want to talk about it; I miss Mom,” she says. 
Evi now lives in an asylum reception centre in Tilburg. 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 with one another. 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.”


It is the ambition of TeamUp to allow all children in Dutch reception centres to take part in our activities. This will, of course, be done in partnership and cooperation with the other organisations who provide activities in these centres. This will allow us to reach as many children as possible.

Help refugee children in the Netherlands. Donate now or become a volunteer