Friday 27 May 2022

Schools and banks speed up integration of Ukrainian refugees

Education minister Dennis Wiersma visits the Ukrainian school in Arnhem. Photo: ANP/Robin van Lonkhuijsen

The first schools for Ukrainian children who fled to the Netherlands have opened their doors after a scramble to find teachers and classroom equipment.

Several hundred children have started lessons in special temporary schools for newcomers, set up to cater for the refugees who began arriving last month.

The schools were set up to prevent the education system from being overstrained, but also to provide counselling and support for children who have been uprooted by the Russian invasion.

The first facility opened last week in Amstelveen, while this week classes have started in locations including Arnhem, Ederveen, Eindhoven and Hengelo.

Around one-third of lessons are given in Dutch to help the children learn the language quickly, while another one-third of their school time is dedicated to sport and activities to support their mental well-being.

Other lessons are given in Ukrainian or English, with some schools linking up digitally with classes in Ukraine to preserve the link with the children’s homeland.

Education minister Dennis Wierma said temporary schools were the preferred option for families who needed to ‘build as secore and normal a life as possible, as quickly as possible’.

‘These temporary education facilities are an important addition to the existing schools for newcomers,’ he said. ‘They allow Ukrainian children to have lessons again.’

The biggest challenge for the schools has been finding qualified staff at short notice. Eline van Haarlem, who was involved in setting up the school in Ederveen, close to a military base where 950 refugees are being housed, told the Financieele Dagblad she had put together a 12-strong team of retired teachers, freelancers, a social worker and a Ukrainian mother in 14 days.

‘There’s still no internet and I don’t know who’s going to be teaching which class tomorrow, or how many children there will be,’ she said. ‘But we have a building, the students are here and we have a team.’

Banks and local authorities have also made arrangements for Ukrainians to open accounts and transfer money from abroad.

The Dutch banking association NVB and payment services association Betaalvereniging Nederland have set up a website with information and advice on how to use the system.

Refugees who are unable to open an account, for example because they do not have a valid passport, can apply for a prepaid debit card from their municipality that allows them to receive benefits and spend money.

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