‘Meeting Point is my GPS’
From help with filling in complex forms to a buddy who will introduce you to student life. The Meeting Point for refugee students meets many needs. This was the finding of experienced experts at the symposium in honour of the one-year anniversary of the Meeting Point.
The birthday party in Plexus student centre was held on World Refugee Day (20 June). Refugee students from different countries told their moving stories about what Meeting Point meant to them. Bertrand fled from Congo to Burundi but also had to leave that country when the situation there became unsafe. He found his feet in Leiden, thanks in part to this meeting place, he said. Bertrans has now just completed his preparatory year in Leiden. This track, an initiative of Leiden University, the Hogeschool Leiden and refugee organisation UAF, prepares refugee students for the entrance level tohigher education. Next year Bertrand will be taking European Studies and he also wants to continue to help other refugee students in Plexus.
Found a job
A young woman from Eritrea explained how, a year ago, she was still wandering around Leiden, lost and lacking confidence. 'I called the Meeting Point and student mentor Ynette Caupain came to meet me straight away. Meeting Point is my GPS. Thanks to the advice and guidence, I can now fee optimistic again. I did an internship at the Bio Science Park and now I have a job.' The participants responded to her story with loud applause.
There are currently 42 refugee students studying at Leiden University. Meeting Point was started by Biology student Lesage Munyemana who fled war-torn Congo in 2010. When he arrived in Leiden, he noticed that there were a lot of refugee students like himself who needed a place of their own where they could go for help and support on all kinds of issues, such as accommodation, the education system and the job market. It was at least partly due to his determination that the area in Plexus was made available.
Connecting better with the world
Vice-Rector Hester Bijl thanked Munyemana and all the volunteers at Meeting Point. ‘I'm proud of your courage and your determination. Refugee students, like other students, need our support. Thanks to your efforts, refugees can study successfully here. That makes Leiden truly a global community, better connected with the world.' In interactive sessions the very inernational group of participants were challenged to discover what they have in common with someone who comes from a completely different country'.
Integration comes from two sides
Keynote speaker Adel Albaghdadi, who fled from Syria, has made igt her misssion to eliminate prejudice. 'I am a refugee and people afen look at me only wiht that label. But I am much mor thn only a refugee. Before I came here I studied law and worked for advertising agencies. Once people really get to know refugees personally, they often think very differently about them.' Other speakers also stressed that integration has to come from two sides. That's why Leiden students without a refugee background are also very welcome at the Meeting Point, Munyemana explained.