Tips & information


Here you'll find tips and tricks that may be useful for organizing activities for refugees. Any questions or comments? Contact:


  • Take into account at what time children go to school. Children attending primary school go to school every day till 2.15 pm. Youngsters attending secondary school usually go there till 3:55 pm.
  • On Thursday morning, all azc-residents have their own obligations. Therefore, they usually can’t participate in an activity after 1.00 pm till 4.00 pm on Thursdays.
  • Status holders receive language lessons. These take place on different days and times.


  • Children can only take part in an external activity if accompanied by a parent or guardian. Note the school hours above.
  • Do not forget the teenagers. Many young people live in the azc. There is a group of forty boys under eighteen living here without parents and family.

Young people between 18 and 25 years

  • Among the refugees are many young people, mostly male, between 18 and 25 years old. They are looking for contact with Dutch peers.


  • Think about how people will get to the location where the activity takes place. Sometimes it is necessary to organize transport. You could pick them up by car, or go together by bike or foot. Take note that most azc-residents have a bike, though not everyone.

Taking pictures

  • Would you like to take pictures? Always ask whether people consent. Before publishing photos on facebook or other social media, ask for permission. For children, ask their parents or guardians.


  • Activities organized by outside groups or organizations other than COA (or in close cooperation with COA) can‘t take place on the grounds of the asylum seekers' centre itself.
  • Without an appointment with a refugee that lives in the azc or an employee you are not allowed to go inside the azc.


  • Keep in mind that many refugees live with uncertainty about their future and family. They are often worried. Important news, good and bad, can come at any time. So, don’t be surprised if someone does not show up or cancels an appointment unexpectedly.
  • Keep in mind that a lot of azc-residents stay in a shelter or camp only temporarily. They will go elsewhere eventually, though it might be weeks, months or years.


  • A few azc-residents speak decent Dutch. Not everyone speaks English. Widely spoken languages include Arabic (Syria, Iraq, Yemen), Farsi/Dari (Iran, Afghanistan) and Tigrinya (Eritrea). Usually, people help each other and often English or Dutch speakers are willing to interpret or translate for the non-speakers. With the help of hands and feet, translation apps, such as Jibbigo and Google, you can get a lot across.
  • Most refugees want to learn Dutch but often lack the local contact necessary to practice their skills. Keep in mind that most activities are also opportunities to practice Dutch.
  • Showing pictures of your children or family, playing games, making or listening to music together can help to break the ice. Tell your new visitors what you've been through that day or what you have heard recently. Let children draw.

Needs and interests

  • So many people, so many wishes. Refugees are as unique as anyone else with their own particular needs and interests. Many azc-residents like to get in touch with people outside the asylum seekers' centre. They like to play sports, do voluntary work together with Dutch citizens, eat together, et cetera. In this way they can learn about Dutch society and focus on the future. Collaborative activities are a good distraction from the daily routine and wait.
  • Don’t forget the status holders that already have a house in Utrecht. They like to have contact with their new neighbours and join activities as well, especially those that live alone and don’t speak Dutch or English well.


  • Establish contact on the basis of mutual respect. Interest is good, but keep in mind that personal issues could be painful for many refugees. Do not ask questions related to their flight for example. Is there a silence during conversations? Say something about yourself.
  • It’s no problem to ask personal questions if your guest makes it clear that he or she wishes to talk about their flight or homeland situation.
  • Not every refugee is well behaved. Assume equivalence: if you don’t like this behaviour, just say so, in a polite way of course. Ask about the source of this behaviour if it is not clear.

Eating together

  • When you eat together, consider the culinary culture of your guests. The backgrounds and dining traditions of refugees are diverse. Some of the refugees are Muslim. They eat halal; meat from a halal butcher. They never eat pork, but do eat fish. Alcohol is not consumed by some.
  • Sometimes guests refuse to accept food or drink. This might be done out of modesty or politeness. Sometimes they don’t want to be a burden. In some cultures it is quite normal to insist several times on eating. When this leads to an awkward situation, you can ease the atmosphere by putting the plates on the table, start eating yourself and encourage your guests to do the same.

Activities for men or women?

  • Sometimes men and women like to do activities separately. Consider sports, cooking or crafts.

Keeping in touch

  • Do you get along with someone? You can always meetup outside of a specific activity. Maybe your new acquaintance would like to exercise together, cook or to practice Dutch. A lot of friendships begin this way.

Helping out with problems

  • Refugees often encounter problematic situations. Permit procedures, housing or family reunification are troublesome. They may ask you to help. Remember that there are professionals who have the necessary knowledge about refugee affairs, such as the Vluchtelingenwerk Nederland. It is best to refer to these organizations when the aforementioned problems arise.


Locations AZC Utrecht
There are two AZC locations: Joseph Haydn Avenue 2A and  2B. The old military hospital at the Joseph Haydn Avenue 2A is a regular AZC and has been around for nearly twenty years. This building houses up to 450 inhabitants; men, women and children. There is also a group of forty underage young people who came without their parents.  Recently, the asylum seekers' center has been further enhanced with the 'Guesthouse' at Joseph Haydnlaan 2B (accommodating up to 150 inhabitants). This building has a private reception and a clothing distribution point.

One can find much information about asylum seekers in Utrecht on the city hall website.


Asylum seekers and refugees
On the UNCHR website you can find – in Dutch - a lot of definitions and terms used in relation to refugees. In practice, these words are often used interchangeably. We use the term refugee to refer to asylum seekers.

Permit holders
After a refugee receives a permit to stay – a so called status - they are also referred to as permit holders. Furthermore, permit holders receive a house from the municipality. In the meantime, most refugees stay in an asylum seekers’ centre. See also the site of the central government on housing refugees with a permit.

Asylum procedure
Information about the asylum procedure can be found on the websites of the central government or the Vluchtelingenwerk Nederland among others. Furthermore the Centraal Orgaan opvang Asielzoekers (COA) gives information on the asylum procedure as well. Click here for the COA webpage.

Information about the housing procedure again can be found on the COA website and government websites.

Countries of origin
Most current residents of the asylum seekers' centers come from Syria, Eritrea, Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan.

Most people who live in the asylum seekers' centre have an Islamic background, coming from Syria, Iraq and Iran. Though, there are also people from these countries who adhere to the Christian faith, such as the usually Orthodox Christian Eritreans.

Voluntary work

This entry is not available in English.