On Monday evenings Harlemmermeerstation brims suddenly with music, laughter, and dancing, and then just as quickly the party evaporates into thin air at 9 p.m. I live around the corner, and always wondered who was having these parties. Yesterday evening it was my turn to be invited.

Stichting Havenstraat is an initiative set up to bring local Amsterdammers and refugees together in a warm and congenial environment. Every week they host a dinner sponsored by a different local company. 80 refugees and 20 locals gather together for excellent food, conversation, and then dancing!

The venue is located in the beautiful Harlemmermeerstation building, right across the street from another historic building that was used for some time as a residence for refugees while they awaited processing. The dinners were conceived as a way to alleviate the boredom of waiting, as well as help them begin the process of integration.

Bart Kraak, one of the organisers, was kind enough to invite Hiraeth co-editor Rowena Dring and me to Monday’s dinner.

We showed up at a little past six and were introduced to the chef for the evening, Julian, and the venue, a bright, covered terrace annex equipped with cosy heaters. In the summer, Bart says they open the back and dine al fresco.

The refugees arrived around seven, generously driven by two bus drivers who make transportation possible in from West. The party was a lively mix of people from different nationalities and backgrounds. The most representative groups seemed to be families with adorable and lively children and young people whose studies in business, electrical engineering, and other subjects had been interrupted by war.

After some chatting and drinks served by enthusiastic volunteers, we all passed into the terrace hall for dinner, a delicious affair of mostly Syrian food.

Following dinner, the party moved back into the hall for dancing, including a traditional Syrian folk dance performed in a snaking line throughout the hall, in which I participated with more enthusiasm than finesse. Happy little kids were everywhere, and the evening was punctuated by much laughter and lively conversation, and a feeling of community.

Stichting Havenstraat, which recently celebrated its 100th dinner with refugees, is always open to companies or organisations who wish to sponsor one of these dinners. If your organisation is interested in supporting this wonderful initiative, please contact the organiser, Marinus, at Marinus.pannevis@gmail.com.

Many thanks again for the invitation to participate, and we hope that Stichting Havenstraat has a long and wonderful life!