What can you do when you hear that asylum seekers have come to the old prison in your town and besides their worries they are also bored? You gather old chess sets from everywhere and you ask your chess club members to donate a new chessboard. That is what happened to Niels van der Mark in Doetinchem in the Netherlands a year ago.
Now, one year later they play weekly in the centre and meet a lot of refugees. Most of the time they exchange only a few words of English. But they play chess the whole afternoon, shake hands and sometimes hug and that’s good. The refugees that come to Doetinchem, a small town near the German border and stay there for about 6-8 weeks. During they stay they learn whether they can stay (most of the time for 5 years) or have to leave. Although they know they know they can stay safely for period of when they come from the civil war in Syria, they are naturally worried about the process. Somehow playing a game of chess eases there mind. It provides a distraction from thinking about their relatives who may also be on the run if they haven’t managed to escape from Syria. On the chessboard they are solving other problems on the chessboard that they have a chance to solve.
During their stay in Doetinchem, the club offers asylum seekers free membership. The club is one way to help them to get into Dutch culture and customs. The club made a business card with its address and a QR-code they can scan which opens Google Maps and the route to the playing location. The card is issued if they would like to play a serious game of chess.
Another way they have found to stay in touch is through Chess.com. Niels invites the asylum seekers to create an account so they can play online once they have left for another centre for. Besides playing chess they can still stay in touch.In this way, Niels kept in touch with Mohammed and learned that he wanted to start a chess club in the centre where he was staying. Niels organised ten boards and pieces and brought it to him. And so he started a chess club in the centre at Deventer.
Niels Van Der Mark will be speaking about his project at the conference.
Local press report.