(Fergie Arrias for HIAS)
With appropriate fanfare, HIAS Aruba recently opened a community center to expand its support services in a new and safe space. The center — a cooperative project of HIAS, UNHCR, and the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration of the U.S. State Department — will serve more than 5,000 refugees and migrants on the island.
“Today is a special day for HIAS and for Aruba, not only in regard to the opening of the community center, but also in celebration of their expansion and services in the region,” said Prime Minister Evelyn Wever-Croes at a ribbon-cutting ceremony last week in the capital of Oranjestad. The prime minister, who attended along with the Minister of Justice and Labor, the Minister of Labor Integration, and the Minister of Transport, said the government was truly grateful and appreciative of the “support, cooperation, and collaboration” of HIAS over the past three years.
The community center will provide a place where HIAS clients can meet, learn, and build supportive networks and develop independence. It will offer language courses, entrepreneurial workshops, wellness classes, and support groups, as well as socioeconomic support and other integration activities.
Aruba, a Dutch Caribbean island which is technically only 18 miles from Venezuela, hosts 17,000 Venezuelan refugees and migrants. There aren't well-documented numbers for non-Venezuelan refugees or migrants, but the island’s population is about 106,000. Wever-Croes noted how HIAS Aruba is becoming a hub for assisting refugees and migrants for the Northern Caribbean.
The HIAS Aruba office, which started its operations in 2019 and has experienced exponential growth and success, runs gender-based violence prevention programs, provides mental health services, and coordinates a socio-economic support program to help at-risk families focus on the best ways to integrate into communities. HIAS also disburses cash support, food vouchers, hygiene kits, and medical packages and strengthens the capacity of local civil society to better address the needs of refugees and migrants.
Country Director Yiftach Millo said he was a bit emotional at the event, especially given the difficulties over the last two years during the pandemic, and noted that his office has built many wonderful working relationships and how the HIAS Aruba staff is building a true legacy for HIAS on the island.
“HIAS Aruba has shifted from being an unknown organization on the island and working quietly on the ground, to a recognized and notable organization supporting the community — in fact, HIAS Aruba is now seen as an expert on work with refugees and migrants and as a resource of information and support," Millo said.
“There is quite a lot of solidarity between Arubans and migrants,” he added. “We are very happy to be part of this society and to contribute our part.”