in | 17 Aug 2017

The refugee crisis is still very real for many. An easy way you can help.

The Movement on the Ground is a not for profit organisation that kicked off in October 2015 when a group of friends decided they were done with watching world atrocities take place and wanted to actually do something about the refugee crisis. We talked to managing Director Nina Schmitz about their latest project the Movement Hotel. They're taking an old prison - the Bijlmerbajes and turning it into a hotel run by refugees.

Tell us about your latest project the Movement Hotel.

The Movement Hotel is a pop-up hotel concept, run by refugees at the Bijlmerbajes. It's been proven that the most effective and dignified way to help refugees integrate into society is through employment. This is the heart and core of this project — empowering people to integrate back into society by giving them the right training and experience that will enable them to run the hotel and get back into the workforce. This project demonstrates a new successful and sustainable model for refugee integration. It gives you a once in a lifetime experience, and last chance to get to visit, explore and stay at the notorious Bijlmer Bajes Prison before it gets demolished. It's a really awesome experience for everyone — and one that helps people, so please book your stay and come visit!

How many refugees are going to be involved in this retraining scheme?

It depends how fast and how many people we get on board of course, but about 40 people. This takes into consideration that most can only work for a maximum of 1-2 times a week due to the inburgeringsklassen requirements and language courses.

Are many refugees have come into the Netherlands? 

Over the space of 2 years the Netherlands received around 7,000 of 120,000 asylum seekers that Europe decided to take in. The Netherlands previously committed to receiving 2,000 asylum seekers staying in Italy and Greece. This is very little actually, and especially when compared to the 3 million that are currently in Turkey.

How does employment help refugees better integrate into society?

Employment kickstarts the entire integration process and is absolutely fundamental. It creates a beautiful catalyst effect. It first of all creates a routine which is great after not having had this structure for a while. It gives people a sense of purpose. It empowers people to harness their skills, and of course empowers them by being able to become financially independent. It brings socialisation which has a huge, powerful effect. People can interact with their colleagues and learn more about culture and society. It creates a network, establishes friendships and gives them the work experience they would need to move forward into having an active, healthy and dignified life in the Netherlands. 

Are the refugees learning Dutch or English?

If you’re involved in the asylum seeking process in the Netherlands you are obliged to enrol in Dutch language courses - and people are super motivated to learn and learn so quick! They put the expats who are living here for 20 years without speaking Dutch to shame haha. ;-) ;-)

Will they be paid by the hotel? 

It depends whether they are going for the full-time employment avenue (in which they would be paid) or the training program. What avenue they choose depends on their current status in the Netherlands (able to work yet or not) as well as their schedules, since when you are in the asylum procedure there are many daily appointments they are obliged to attend as well as language courses.

Who is the hotel's target audience?

It's quite a mix. It's firstly for Amsterdam locals and Dutch nationwide who believe in the cause and would like to help refugees integrate into their country as well as getting to stay in a notorious building they've heard of throughout their lives. There are many activities in the prison that cater to both families and children, while at the same time to companies interested in a unique experience. We have escape rooms, tours, a hamam (in the making) as well as meeting rooms - so this project welcomes quite a diversity of people.

You’ve already raised 22% of your goal (over 10,000 euros) how did you raise so much? 

Yes! A lot of the funds are raised from people who booked a night staying at the Bijlmerbajes. We also have our buy a cell option. We have five rooms that companies can “buy” and decorate themselves. So far we have sold two and have three left that are available. If you are interested in buying a cell please reach out to us! 

How do you plan to raise the rest? When's the deadline?

The deadline is officially on 3 September - and we have learnt that there is quite an elaborate strategy involved with making any crowdfund campaign successful. We are going for all avenues - tapping into our network online via social media, mailings as well as through media and PR, TV coverage, influencers helping spread the word, as well as offline events.

What gave you the idea to utilise this space?

As of June 2016 the Bijlmerbajes prison officially closed and over 600 asylum seekers moved into the towers. We knew that two of the towers were actually empty and not being used. Because one of our founders is also founder of a hotel chain, he was able to quickly spot this potential social project, and came up with the idea of a pop-up hotel. It's a good way to make use of a tower that's not being used into a cool inspiring project!

You've already created a cafe in the prison. How's that part of the project going? 

The cafe is currently being run by our partners The Refugee Company. It's going great already with help from Bocca Coffee who are training people to have top notch barista skills necessary in the Amsterdam labour market. 

How can people be involved?

We love this project and hope that you will too. Please get in touch and get involved as a part of the Movement! This project is collaborative by nature - with lots of companies involved in terms of sponsorship of materials, trainings and future employers, as well as volunteers helping set up the space, to future clients of guests who want to check it out and be a part of the movement. If you want to get involved in a specific way please reach out to us! If you want to support the project by spending a night pre-book your room on our crowd fund campaign. If you just love the project and are happy to donate please do on our crowd fund link. Also - help spread the word! We believe this is a project to talk about. :-) 

How has the vision of Movement on the Ground changed throughout the refugee crisis?

The very nature of the refugee crisis is very, very quick. Things change all the time and we as Movement on The Ground had to move quickly to adapt and stay relevant. During 2015 and early 2016 our strategy was ‘Sea to Safety’ which involved helping people off boats after having risked the dangerous journey from Turkey to Lesvos. It involved quickly filling in gaps of needs in the humanitarian response, such as making sure that a temporary camp was well equipped for winter or providing food. After the EU-Turkey deal in 2016 the refugee crisis changed and we followed suit. People were staying in camps not just for a few days but for several months even years, so we came up with ‘Camp to CampUS’, which is our current strategy to rethink the current model of refugee camps and to help convert them into a place where there is dignity, innovation and inspiration for people who have to live there for months without end. Our next strategy that we are inaugurating is “From Refugees to Employees” which makes a full circle with our other strategies by helping people at the end of their trek - where they must begin their new lives in their new home country. 

What’s one of the most rewarding moments?

I’ll quote one of our founders, Laura Jansen for this “When little normal things happen in the middle of a crisis, they are like diamonds.” To give an example: we run a nutrition program with our Giving Food Truck (a massive industrial kitchen in the form of a food truck that provides nutrition for a camp we work on) and sometimes women will have a big discussion over a recipe they should make, and in those moments there is normality - which is beautiful given the chaos and trauma people are going through. Another example is with our community centre where we run many activities. In the evenings when we run a movie night - it is a precious moment of peace and normality where people can watch a movie like anyone else on the planet regardless of their situation.

What inspired you to start the Movement on the Ground?

The photo of a Syrian boy Alan Kurdi washed onto the beach was one that moved many to realise that the refugee crisis was very, very real. Two of our founders Johnny de Mol and Adil Izemrane saw this photo and decided to cancel their regular trip to Ibiza to instead go to the island of Lesvos, Greece to volunteer and help. They went for a weekend where over 10,000 people arrived onto the tiny island of Lesvos in 48 hours and they were completely shocked into a new reality. There weren’t many other non-profit organisations there and very little humanitarian response during this time. Needless to say this weekend changed their life forever and is what inspired Movement on The Ground. A year after Movement on The Ground started I joined the team as Managing Director.

What’s your backgrounds prior to this? Tell us a little about your team.

Before becoming Managing Director of Movement on The Ground I was Director of Stichting Heppie for many years. My background is actually as a child and language therapist before getting involved with non-profit organisations. Our team is very diverse which is one of our strengths. Our founders alone consist of a tv presenter, a musician, two entrepreneurs and a creative director which provides a constant flow of initiatives and projects. We have Project Managers based in Amsterdam and a Head of Mission based on Lesvos where most of our projects are - along with the helping hands of many, many volunteers with hearts of gold from all backgrounds.

Read more about the Movement on the Ground here. Whether you'd like to volunteer your time or money, or just stay in the loop every little bit really does help make the world a better place for someone else.

To quote Albert Einstein, perhaps one of the smartest humans to walk our planet, "the world will be destroyed not by those who do evil, but those who watch them without doing anything."