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Week 12: Close to home

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In our blog series ‘Close to home’ Yemeni refugee Ali* and host Robert share their experiences living together. There will be weekly posts about the ups and downs, difficulties, highlights and surprises. This week: It’s now passed the planned three months Ali would stay at Robert’s. Though it was possible Ali’s stay would be longer, this week they reflect on this.

*not his real name.

Robert is many things, dad, dog-lover, Director of Takecarebnb, an organisation that matches newcomers to host families. Every day, he convinces Dutch host families to offer temporary places of stays for refugees with a status. Now that his youngest daughter has passed her final exams, it’s time to put his words into action.

Ali is a refugee from Yemen with big dreams. He loves poetry, chess and can solve a Rubik’s cube in less than a minute. He spent time studying and working in India when it became clear he could not return to Yemen. When travelling to Europe as part of a conference, he visited The Netherlands and knew he wanted to stay.

Ali: The wind blows where it wishes, not where we wish it to. I have learned that no matter how well you plan, something will go wrong, I have always preferred to look for alternatives in all scenarios. Housing is no different. My stay with Robert was only supposed to last three months, and we have discussed it since our first meeting. I’m not sure when I’ll be able to get my social housing, and I’m afraid I’ll have to return to the AZC.

I emailed COA, and they said they can’t promise that I will be placed in AZC Amsterdam, but that it could be anywhere in the country. Which is going to be very difficult for me since my work is in Amsterdam. As usual, I discussed this issue with Robert, explaining that I don’t want to be the one who breaks our agreement and over-stay, but he confirmed that I can stay until I get my house. 

Robert: Of course we made a plan for this blog. Episode #12, the one you’re reading right now, was supposed to be about saying ‘goodbye’. Well, it’s not. No goodbye yet. There is no house yet for Ali. We started this journey with a three month horizon.

According to regulations, that’s how long a municipality has to find a house for its newcomers. But we already know about the housing shortage. This period can become longer when no house is available. And that is often the case. My guest could go back to an AZC if we decide the stay should end. But we will not. We are having a good time together and I have asked Ali to stay until a house is available. 

Robert: At the same time this is a dilemma host families regularly face when the three month period is over. Do we really want to send him or her back to ‘the camp’? At Takecarebnb we stress that this ís an option but that we will always try to find a new host family to avoid that scenario. And Takecarebnb always does find one. A better scenario is that we postpone the stay for a while and start the stay three months before the house is expected to be available. That’s why we want to collaborate with the local government: they know how long it takes on average in their municipality.

Robert: Let’s not forget the perspective of my guest Ali. He also agreed to stay for three months. He wants to move into his own place, no matter how happy he is as my guest. Besides that, he feels guilty and doesn’t want to abuse my hospitality. I did my best to convince him that he is really welcome and that I do not feel forced in any way. I think he believes me. So after having spent the summer together we will enjoy a cup of tea in the autumn sun and talk about work, about family. About his sister’s birthday and how he arranged for his other sister to organize a party and hand over his gift. He wants to be at that party so much. I’m really sorry Ali. When winter comes I’m sure Ali will have his own place. And I will be his guest every now and then, I’m sure of that as well. 

Ali: I had hoped to get my house within three months, but fate had other plans for me. I’m so lucky not to have gotten my house so quickly because I’m still learning so much from Robert, and I believe mentorship is a lifelong relationship, not just a three-month relationship. 

Goodbyes are something I am constantly concerned about, I recall the last time I said goodbye to my sisters. In Yemen in August 2014, or in 2017, when I dropped my mother off at the airport. Every time I pass through Schiphol, the pain of goodbye hits me hard. Hopefully, my goodbye with Robert will be less painful because we live in the same country and are likely to be close. I will always pay him visits, and he will undoubtedly have a key to my house where we can catch up and talk again if Ollie (the dog) can one day talk back to us and tell me what she thinks of me.

I will tell him my boring office stories or my relationship complications stories. I don’t think there will ever be a goodbye between us, we will always stay in touch and he will always remain someone I look up to.