Plan Einstein is an innovative approach that was developed by the municipality of Utrecht and its partners for the reception and integration of refugees in Utrecht city. In 2016, Plan Einstein saw the light aiming to create a social environment where local youngsters and refugees live together, learn together and work together.
Because the European Commission considered Plan Einstein an innovative and inspiring approach, Utrecht has received funding from the European Commission’s Urban Innovative Actions Initiative. At Einsteindreef in Utrecht district of Overvecht, refugees and local youngsters used to become neighbours. They also followed English and Entrepreneurship courses alongside local residents of Overvecht neighbourhood.
In Plan Einstein, the integration process started from day one where refugees use their time in the asylum center to rebuild their lives. Plan Einstein was a chance for both refugees and local residents to meet, get to know each other and work on their future.
The local residents of Overvecht were against having an asylum center in the middle of their neighborhood. There were actually riots at first. For this reason, there was a necessity to develop an innovative approach like Plan Einstein. The city of Utrecht has created an inner value for the urban development through encouraging innovative projects. Such projects can provide solutions for wicked social problems like the reception and integration of refugees.
Inclusiveness, cohesion and trust
Building a community through a two-way invitation: Plan Einstein promoted values such as equality, inclusiveness, cohesion and trust which all contribute to building a healthy community. Refugees and local citizens in Plan Einstein were neighbours. They had the opportunity to make friendships and build their network.
Following the same courses did not only give a chance for people to build their future, but also allow them to know each other better. Niene Oepkes, the project manager of Plan Einstein, reflects on this by saying: “Through following the same courses refugees and local residents discover that they are pretty much the same”.
Plan Einstein is an open window for new comers:
Many refugees wait for long time until they have an answer concerning their legal status in the Netherlands without being able to work or study. This might affect their mental health negatively and cause loneliness and depression. In plan Einstein refugees used their time effectively following courses that can help them to build their future in the Netherlands or anywhere else.
Sense of belonging
Plan Einstein was not like any asylum center since it did not segregate refugees from the Dutch community. Instead, it promoted the integration process. A refugee has said: “Here we no longer feel like foreigners or strangers, like in the other reception centres. We just belong and that gives us a nice and safe feeling”.
Finally, Plan Einstein helped refugees not to lose the meaning of their lives since many of them lost their jobs or had to stop their studies. Niene Oepkes sates that: “it is essential to realize that they have been someone and that someone is not lost. This someone is still there but needs to find a new way to express him/herself in new environment”.
Friends with neighbourhood residents
Eventually, local residents of the neighborhood who were against the projects have become friends of refugees who used to live in Plan Einstein. After closing the project in Overvecht, Plan Einstein has moved recently to another asylum centre in the neighbourhood Oog in Al in Utrecht.
Written by Raneem Salama.