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Life Skills - Empower migrants on the move

During Life Skills workshops, UDMs they learn how to better protect their health and wellbeing, even in the most challenging situations.

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What problem does the idea help to solve and how does your solution work? (2,000 characters maximum)

In the Netherlands, at least 35.000 migrants reside without a legal status. Undocumented Migrants (UDMs) have limited access to basic services. Their harsh conditions, struggle for survival, lack of agency, and uncertainty about the future are detrimental to their mental and physical health. Most live out of sight of the public, roaming the streets, squatting or subletting temporarily. Only a few have access to a municipal night shelter. Many of them have been in aliens detention at least once, but are unable to (be) return(ed) to their country of origin. They remain in legal limbo. The Netherlands Red Cross has several projects aimed at improving UDMs capacity to better protect their health and to find help. As they are struggling to survive, they lack the tools and conditions to enable them to take back control over their lives. In codesign sessions they prioritized these needs: 1. Practical information: “We are not sure where we can get help, and what kind of help.” 2. Talents & skills: “We did beautiful things before we got into this situation, we want to be able to use our talents and skills again.” 3. Psychological support: “We need networks […] good people and people with a similar experience.” In cooperation with UDMs we developed Life Skills workshops, that aim to support UDMs in learning how to protect and strengthen their psychosocial health, even in the most challenging situations. Many of them are young adults (age 18-35) from Middle Eastern and African countries. Some just arrived in the Netherlands, others have been living here for over 30 years. Especially the levels of stress of UDMs who are detained are strikingly high.

Geography of focus (500 characters)

The support is provided in Dutch towns where larger groups of UDMs reside. In total at least 35.000 UMDs reside without a legal status in the Netherlands, however the police estimate their number much higher, referring to circa 20,000 UDMs in Amsterdam and 20,000 in Rotterdam. UDMs predominantly originate from African (like Morocco, Somalia, Sudan) and Middle Eastern countries (like Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan), others are stateless. We also offer support in the Aliens Detention Center Rotterdam.

Building Bridges: What bridge does your idea build between people on the move and neighbors towards a shared future of stability and promise? (500 characters)

The Life Skills workshops provide psychological stability so that UDMs can connect better to themselves and to people in society. They are better able to deal with stress and therefore can communicate better. Clear communication empowers them to explain their needs and to create empathy and understanding amongst the local population. Increased awareness of talents and skills, opens them up to have more social cooperation with local population and contributions to the local society.

What human need is your idea solving for? (1,000 characters)

An internal impact measurement found the Life Skills workshop tends to have a positive effect on UMDs psychosocial well-being and resilience. In the co design sessions among 20 UDMs, facilitated by our 510 department who make use of the Human Centered Design approach, UDMs prioritized the following three needs: 1. Practical information: “We are not sure where we can get help, and for what kind of help.” 2. Talents & skills: “We did beautiful things before we got into this situation, and we want to be able again, to use our talents and skills.” 3. Psychological support: “We need networks […] good people and people with a similar experience.” The Life Skills workshops provide psychological support. In this way, we fulfill their need to: • be seen and heard as an talented and skilled person • be recognized in their complex situation, bearing many losses and lacking of future perspective • have peers, feeling that they are not alone, can learn from each other and feel (re)connected.

What will be different within the community of focus as a result of implementing your idea? (1,000 characters)

The workshops have a tested worth, that is best verbalized by UDMs themselves. After joining our workshops, UDMs shared the following : • We get clarity about psychological and physical effects of stress, which leads to better (self) reflection on emergency situations • We can openly share our experiences feels liberating • It will help me not to make the same mistakes • I become aware that I am not alone with so much pain and misery, some others are in even worse situations • We experience so much mutual appreciation and respect • I can feel happiness for life despite the intense stories • Sharing positive experiences makes me feel better [it can even give a positive twist to their lives!]. • I know better what I can do in an emergency and where I can get professional help in case of need • We understand each other better now, I know that I am not alone struggling • There is more understanding and willingness to help each other within the group.

What is the inspiration behind your idea? (1,000 characters)

The idea to develop Life Skills workshop derived in an earlier phase of our project, in which we mainly focused on increased continuity of health care through medical referrals. We understood that the biggest need of UDMs is not just the practical support to reach professional care – which is still a need - but on a deeper level to be seen as truly human beings. Of course UDMs , like anyone else, require good health care, since health care helps to keep people healthy, and health is a condition to give direction to life. These people want to live, and have a life! They are looking for safety, security, shelter, for a home, for health and wellbeing, for a good future for themselves and their children. They need to be treated with dignity, they need to be seen. Through our support, the Red Cross sees them and helps UDMs to remain health and take back control, taking their life into their own hands, despite the limitations of their situation. In this way, the Red Cross is there for them.

Describe the dynamics of the community in which the idea is to be implemented. (1,000 characters)

UDMs often do not easily seek help for mental health problems. Barriers for seeking help are many, including: taboos on mental health problems, cultural differences (including gender discrimination and inequality), lack of knowledge about their access to healthcare, fear of prosecution, financial constraints, and lack of trust in general practioners’ competencies regarding mental health. Also communication a language that is not their native language does not make it easier to share one’s worries. They often have simply no person who is willing to listen. Therefore, being there and providing a space to talk, with peers and professional care givers, is a start for gaining trust and creating openness to exchange their stories. Now somebody will be there - regularly, continuously, and willing to listen. Therefore the best way we reach them is through personal networks and regular presence at places where they come to find shelter, food, safety, distraction or other forms of support.

How does your idea leverage and empower community strengths and assets to help create an environment for success? (1,000 characters)

We developed the workshops together with UDMs and health professionals (mainly psychologists and social workers). We continuously invest in their development. So far, five thematic workshops have been developed, each taking two hours, with the following topics: 1. Access to healthcare 2. Expressing yourself clearly 3. Everything you need to know about stress 4. Healthy habits 5. Looking forward: using your talents The workshops use a range of techniques that align with the principles of the experiential learning approach. The emphasis is on interaction among participants, added with psycho-educative elements, making use of the wide range of techniques (including: information sharing, guided and small group discussions, ice breakers and energizers, brainstorms, role-plays, and reflective learning). The workshops are accessible and easy to follow, open to participants with different educational backgrounds. There is a maximum of 12 participants per workshop.

What other partners or stakeholders will work alongside you in implementing the idea, if any? (1,000 characters)

Since the start of our project in 2015, we provide services in in close cooperation with partner organizations. We offer our services at locations where UDMs come regularly and feel safe. Most often these are location where they receive shelter, food, or legal or medical support, such as the Salvation Army, World House and Doctors of the World. Apart from the larger NGO’s we also work together with small local, community based and sometimes migrants organisation, such as Inlia (Groningen), ASKV (Amsterdam) and ROS (Rotterdam). We also work with the Judicial Institution of the government so that we reach UDMs who are held in the Aliens Detention Center Rotterdam, since their s We plan to expand the program, depending on feasibility. In 2018 we reached 533 UDMs. In future we hope to expand our cooperation with specialized mental health institutions, possibly in the Netherlands as well as abroad.

What part of the displacement journey is your solution addressing

  • Being on the move, crossing borders, and/or temporarily settled

Tell us how you'd describe the type of innovation you are proposing

  • Service: A new or enhanced service that creates value for end beneficiaries

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Pilot: We have started to implement the idea as a whole with a first set of real users. The feasibility of an innovation is tested in a small-scale and real world application (i.e. 3-15% of the target population)

Group or Organization Name

The Netherlands Red Cross

Tell us more about your group or organization [or lived experience as a displaced person?] (1000 characters)

The Red Cross helps to strengthen resilience of vulnerable people exposed to hazards and crisis situations and we respond to disasters and conflicts to save lives and alleviate suffering. In the Netherlands, with more than thirty thousand volunteers, and internationally through technical assistance, supplies and financial support. We do this without regards to nationality, race, religious beliefs, class or political opinion. Our seven principles guide our humanitarian work: humanity, impartiality, neutrality, independence, voluntary service, unity and universality. NB. This project will also contribute to a bigger process of the International RCRC Movement to ‘address mental health and psychosocial needs of people affected by armed conflicts, natural disasters and other emergencies’. The movement is currently preparing a resolution for the 33rd international conference in December.

Website URL:

Type of submitter

  • We are a registered Non-Profit Organization

Organization Headquarters: Country

The Netherlands

Organization Headquarters: City / State

Den Hague

Attachments (1)

20190812 Brochure OOM EN.pdf

Folder about the Life Skills workshops


Join the conversation:

Photo of Uchenna Okafor

Hi Carolien! Great and insightful design here. Yes; it pays little or nothing to concentrate immigrants in camps with brand as refugees and displaced persons at the expense and liability of the entire society. It is better to integrate and utilize their skills and resourcefulness for economic development of their territory of residence. But very importantly, endeavor to adequately accommodate disabled persons among them. Once again, super applauds to this design.

Photo of Carolien

Dear Uchenna Okafor, Thanks for your complements. Yes, supporting people to keep on using their talents and skills is needed as a form to protect human dignity - even in such challenging situations as irregular stay. Seeing people as people, and remain human in our contact is key!

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