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The Sanctuary City: The experience of Utrecht Part 2

In this video Niene Oepkes describes two cases of asylum seekers receiving 'sanctuary' in Utrecht
Yes, well, there was this young girl who just turned 18 and was sent out of care by national government because she is supposed to take care of herself when she’s 18. However, she’s been raped in the streets, and she’s really very scared. And she is from Western Africa. She doesn’t know that much of our language, and she’s being terribly misused in the streets until someone from her own country finds her, takes her into our social workers, and she’s just sitting there trembling in a corner and she doesn’t talk. And we need a female social worker to go out to her and try to reassure her that she may tell what has happened.
Then, of course, the social worker takes her to the police because we don’t want these kind of things to happen in our streets. And we gave her shelter, and it took a couple of weeks because she was able to tell about what happened and to tell about her asylum story, which was completely missed because of the terrible things that happened to her. And I may tell you that we are now sometime later, and she has done a course in health care. And she is now helping elderly people who she considers to be very vulnerable, and in fact, it is healing for her trauma to be able to help the elderly people. It makes her forget about her own troubles.
So this is one example.
Well the second one is this guy who is not really smart. In fact, his IQ is a bit impaired and he is a bit psychotic. And you know the bicycle in the Netherlands is the local way of transport, and he’s very much attached to his bicycle. So he takes his bicycle along everywhere and locks it to this chair, which is a nuisance, but it is even more in nuisance that he has grown attached to his social worker, who is a man. And when the man goes out to the supermarket, this undocumented migrant follows him with his bicycle into the supermarket. There’s a lot of trouble.
And with this man, it’s a problem that he really doesn’t understand the system at all, and he doesn’t even understand that he is a rejected asylum seeker. He has never told his story in a coherent way. So this is where a social worker comes in calling me in desperation– please, relieve me of this bicycle guy. Find some solution because he’s following me like a dog everywhere around. I can hardly speak with him, so that’s where professionals have to come in and try to get the story of this really troubled man into better focus.

Interview with Niene Oepkes, Policy Advisor, City of Utrecht (Netherlands)

We asked Niene the following question:

Can you describe a concrete example of an emergency situation where the city had to intervene and provide ‘sanctuary’ for rejected asylum seekers/undocumented migrants?

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Migration and Cities

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