This piece has been co-written with Sarah Holsen.
Since returning from Lesbos this summer and as the refugee crisis in Europe has evolved, I have been asked a number of times what we as individuals can do. There seems to be a huge need to help amongst many of us, and as the same was experienced by my friend from the international women’s association WORLD! – Sarah Holsen – we decided to compile a list of local North Denmark organisations, events and private initiatives, where help is much appreciated.
The refugee crisis has escalated throughout the summer, as tens of thousands of primarily Syrians have risked their lives, whilst crossing the sea from Turkey to the Greek islands of Lesbos, Samos, Chios and Kos (amongst others). They are escaping a bloody and lasting war, which so far has internally replaced about eight million Syrians and sent another four million to neighbouring countries such as Egypt, Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. Out of those many millions, about one million is looking to Europe for safety and so far about 250.000 have made it across to primarily Greece. From here they have trekked by foot through Macedonia and Serbia to reach Hungary and the Schengen-area, but most hope to settle in Germany or other western European countries.
During the past weeks a lot of us have seen harrowing pictures and news footage from across Europe as refugees from Turkey to Hungary have become desperate and boarded boats, train, busses or simply set out on foot in order to reach safety. Their journey is one with many risks as human traffickers and criminals are seeing the current humanitarian crisis as a business opportunity. At the same time the European Union and the national governments within it has looked helpless and deeply divided, as many countries have resisted a common response to the crisis and rejected a fairer distribution of the refugees amongst member states. Germany has stood out in this messy spectacle accepting all Syrians who make it onto German soil.
As for Denmark there have been a surge of private initiatives. Clothes, shoes, sleeping bags, toys and hygiene articles as well as money have been collected and sent to primarily Lesbos and various groups/organisations try to arrange meetings between Danes and newcomers/refugees. This is in stark contrast to the official stance, as the Danish government had only accepted 5174 asylum seekers (of which 2142 are from Syria) (nyidanmark.dk) through July of this year and the integration minister, Inger Støjberg, has just launched an advertisement campaign – via newspapers in Lebanese newspapers, to warn any potential refugees planning a future in Denmark not to come. Concurrently, the initial financial benefits offered to asylum seekers have been cut dramatically this year and further tightening in the requirements to obtain asylum have been implemented since the general election in June 2015.
The public outpouring and your questions to me about how to help and what to do is in stark contrast to the official stance, and this gives me hope. Hope that we can bridge the cultural differences between the new arrivals to Denmark and ourselves, so Denmark prosper on the basis of all our common resources; hope of a more humane political agenda – here and throughout Europe; and hope of a more welcoming and sober rhetoric in the public sphere.
If you wish to help in this work, please contact any of the organisations below or write to me or Sarah Holsen through our respective blogs, should you have any further questions. We will try to keep it updated as opportunities to help come up, events pop up, etc.
What you can do in North Jutland/North Denmark/Nordjylland:
There are several established organizations organizing efforts to help the refugees. There are also grassroots groups that have formed and communicate with the public mainly via Facebook (but also do concrete things ‘on the ground’). Here are the ones we have found that are currently active and actually doing stuff:
From the ‘Venligboerne – flygtninge’ Facebook group description: (translation by Google, massaged by author) ‘Friendly neighbors – refugees’ is a group of volunteers who consider every refugee a source of inspiration. We see meeting the new residents of Denmark as an opportunity to better understand life. We want to welcome them to the country and we make an effort to always be friendly when meeting them. Hence the name “Friendly Neighbors.”
Venligboerne was “born” in Hjørring almost 3 years ago, founded by Marete Bonde Pilgaard. It has grown to tens of thousands of ‘members’ in cities throughout Denmark as well as several European cities. The first iteration of the basic group was not specific to refugees. The basic idea was simple: meet people with kindness and see what happens. ‘Venligboerne – flygtninge’ is a subgroup of Venligboerne. As the months have passed, we have become a people’s movement. It simply makes sense for thousands of people to meet others with kindness. We have three key phrases:
- Be friendly meeting others
- Be curious when you meet people who are different from you
- Meet diversity with respect
Concretely, the group publicizes efforts being made to help the refugees, advertises activities that need volunteers, describes ways to help, connects people who want to help in specific ways, etc. You can join the ‘Venligboerne – refugees’ group to learn about the general movement, ‘Venligboerne – Aalborg og omegn’ to become informed about activities and efforts in the Aalborg area, and ‘Venligboerne giver væk til flygtninge’ to find out what, where, and how to donate items and time to the refugee cause.
The Venligboerne – Aalborg og omegn group and The South Gate Society have organized a bus trip from Aalborg to Budapest from October 11 to 13 called Road Trip: The Budapest Project. Two people are in charge – LeAnne Kline Christensen of The South Gate Society and Mads Nygaard, who started the Venligboerne group in Aalborg. The goal of the road trip is a ‘peaceful protest against human rights violations, and to acknowledge the conditions that the Hungarian refugees have been “living” with. We want to promote communication about refugees within the EU, starting with ourselves. We want to meet refugees, spend time getting to know them on the bus trip, and write about what we learn from one another. The trip’s ultimate goal, however, is to reach a concert venue in Budapest where we have organized a concert. The goal is to show the people of Budapest that we are listening and we hear them.’
The bus will leave from Aalborg Train Station and travel through Germany and the Czech Republic and then on to Hungary. Everyone is welcome – several refugees living in Nordjylland have been granted travel visas to travel with the group, so it will be a mixed group and should be a lot of fun, according to LeAnne. You can read more about it (and sign up!) here.
This is a FB group that was started by Trine Wittendorff and her husband Abdi a year ago. Their focus is collecting things needed by refugees in the asylum centers around Nordjylland and distributing them to the appropriate places. Here are the things most needed:
- Clothing in all sizes
- Bicycles for both genders (which go to the bicycle workshop where they get time to go and work on bikes)
- Winter clothing and shoes/boots
- Products like toothpaste, toothbrushes, sanitary napkins, diapers, shampoo, and perfume
- Baby carriages and strollers
- Electric kettles
- Football clothing/equipment.
They do NOT need furniture.
While the group is run primarily in Danish, you are very welcome to write on the group’s wall in English with questions, offers, etc.
Everything is collected in HMS in Svenstrup (Atletikvej 13, 9230 Svenstrup – a few kilometers south of Aalborg, past Ikea), where a room has been donated to the cause. Hours for drop-offs are: Tuesday to Friday 13:00 to 17:00 and Saturday 10:00 to 14:00.
In addition to the above items, they need people to drive the items to the asylum centers. So if you have access to a car, you could think about donating your time that way.
The founders of the group are also organizing an event on 10 October from 12:00 to 17:00. Called ’Velgørenhedsdag’ (or ’charity day’), the event will feature entertainment, including children’s songs, a magician, African drums and other music, as well as food from a variety of countries. Somalian, Indian, and Arabic cuisines, among others, will be represented. There will also be a raffle with many great prizes. The way it works is this: you decide how many people you want to go with, how much you want to pay, and get on the guest list with your friends and family (you can pay via MobilPay or bank transfer). At the time of this post being published, there were only 50 out of 200 seats left. All the donated money will go to the unaccompanied youth / children who fled war alone and are alone here in Denmark, staying at a children’s center. The money will be used to throw those children a party. Click here to learn more. If you cannot attend, you can still donate!
From their website: ‘Asylforum is a network of people interested in and/or affected by asylum politics. We are open to everyone whether you are an asylum seeker, someone with a residence permit, or a native Dane. Our aim is to establish a dialog with the asylum seekers, based on their needs and thoughts, in order to address the isolation and exclusion that is often felt by asylum seekers, with or without residence. In the long term we hope to establish a framework in which everyone can meet around meaningful activities.’
The group started in 2012 and currently operate out of Kofoedsskole in central Aalborg. They organize the annual ‘Mangfoldighedsdagen’ (‘Diversity Day’) in Aalborg and are active in helping asylum seekers feel welcome in Nordjylland. They are seeking volunteers to help out with events like the weekly ‘Welcome to Aalborg’, visits to asylum centers, weekly open houses, parties, and lots of other activities. Seems like a great way to really jump in and have a personal connection to the people arriving in Nordjylland. They have a FB page but it is not as active as the other groups. Our advice on this one is just to contact them directly – it’s easy to become involved with them and they are personally in contact with refugees, who are eager to meet locals.
From personal experience, this is a fantastic group that works hard to help all international residents feel welcome in Aalborg. They run ‘International Tuesday’ every week on their premises (a great space, by the way), which include Danish lessons, a joint meal, and general fellowship. While connected to the Danish church, Elsk Aalborg does not proselytize or push people to join or accept their faith. In addition to International Tuesdays, they are organizing an event on Wednesday, 16 September called ‘Empty the Asylum Centers.’ The idea behind it is that individuals and families in Aalborg welcome a minimum of 2 asylum seekers into their home that day for dinner. Volunteers are responsible for picking the people up at one of two locations, taking them home, sharing a meal, and returning them to the pick-up location. The whole event lasts from 18:00 to 20:30. You can find out more on Elsk Aalborg’s website here. The good news is that they had so much interest from those who wanted to host that they were oversubscribed – the bad news is that if you want to host, you will have to wait until they do another round of the event in the future. Good news for the asylum seekers! J Elsk Aalborg is always looking for new volunteers to do everything from greeting people at International Tuesdays to coordinating big (well organized, I must add) events…See their FB page here.
One of the biggest organizations involved in helping the refugees, with a branch in Aalborg. They accept donations as well as volunteers. The big day of this year for the Red Cross in connection to the refugees is 4 October, when they need people to fan out across the city and gather donations from residents of Aalborg. Here is the description of their fundraising drive:
’Come and join the Red Cross collection in Aalborg on Sunday 4 October. We need roughly 215 people to help make a difference. Are you affected by the heartbreaking images of refugees fleeing and want to help these people? Then give three hours of your Sunday. In three hours you can collect about 1,000 kr., which can provide shelter to two fleeing families or food for 28 children for one month. Register here to volunteer.’
Refugees Welcome event at Karolinelund Saturday, 12 September from 12:00 to 15:00
Here is the FB page description:
‘It’s time speak out against the deadly borders that have been enacted in our name. People all over Europe are organizing resistance and solidarity in their towns and cities. On the 12th of September we want to show with thousands of people all over Europe our solidarity with those fleeing war, violence and destitution.
In Aalborg we are welcoming new refugees through this event. We want to meet each other, celebrate the courage of the people who are crossing Europe’s borders – and the courage many have shown in struggling for a better future. We want to mark that we are taking good care of our new neighbours.
We are working on the schedule for the day. More information will follow. We need hands and ideas, so please let us know if you want to join the planning. Especially, we need your help if you are in contact with refugees so we can spread the word!’
Several of the above organizations (plus a lot more) are teaming up to bring Aalborg the ’Mød Verden’ event on Saturday, 19 September from 14:00 to 19:00 in Karolinelund. Here is the FB description:
Do you love meeting new people from different cultures? Do you like barbecue, fun, spas and really good music? Would you like to hear North Jutland’s own Allan Olsen play “We Want One Denmark”?
Then come and join us for ‘Mød Verden’ (Meet the World)! We invite you to a pleasant and exciting multicultural one-day mini festival in Karolinelund on Saturday, September 19 from 2pm to 7pm!
During the day there will be various activities for children, young people, and their parents, and there will be different music from all parts of the world on stage.
The event will take place in connection with Aalborg Sustainability Festival and the concept is that people from different cultures come together on equal footing with one another to achieve a better understanding of each other’s cultures and living conditions.
We have invited a number of people from different cultures (including refugees / asylum seekers), and together with we will create an absolutely perfect day. You will also have the opportunity to hear thought-provoking stories and ask the refugees as many questions as you like – and they will be happy to answer to the extent that they can.
When evening approaches, we will light up the grills, and everyone will have the opportunity to cook their own food. It would be nice if it became a potluck, and everyone shared food with one another.
All are welcome – regardless of skin color, nationality, religion, income or age!
Price: Free (but bring food for the grill) Here is the FB page.
Started by Anna Klitgaard (co-author of this blog post) – to take place on Tuesday, 6 October from 17:00 to 20:00, the same day that a demonstration will happen in Copenhagen. This will enable us to show that Northern Jutland and not just people from Copenhagen and Zealand wish to speak out and has friendliness to show to others. Opportunities to volunteer to help abound. Watch the FB page for further developments.
IF YOU KNOW OF ANY ADDITIONAL ACTIVITIES/EVENTS/VOLUNTEER OPPORTUNITIES, PLEASE CONTACT US!
To follow the ongoing humanitarian crisis across Europe, these media might be of help: