The Louise Michel is the humanitarian rescue ship saving lives in the Mediterranean. Financed by the artist Banksy, it has found a safe port in Sicily.
Refugees Welcome is the Airbnb for refugees. And Europe opens its homes
Refugees Welcome puts refugees searching for places to stay in contact with those who have a room to spare. It’s now expanding to five continents.
It’s been called the “Airbnb for refugees”. Refugees Welcome, Flüchtlinge Willkommen in the original German, is a non-profit website that connects refugees to people offering spare rooms. It has been active in Germany since November 2014 and in Austria since January 2015, helping around 140 refugees from 21 different countries find places to stay.
The idea for the project was borne when 28-year-old Mareike Geiling and 31-year-old Jonas Kakoschke sublet a room in their Berlin home to a refugee from Mali, paying for his rent through micro-donations made by family and friends. Before being welcomed by the young Berliners he had been living on the streets for about a year.
Based on the positive nature of this experience Gerling and Kakoschke came together with a friend, Golde Ebding, to start the website. Refugees Welcome aims to stop people displaced from their home countries ending up in large-scale living facilities such as those provided by the state. In these contexts, the team emphasises, they struggle to integrate into society. Instead, the organisation wants to offer asylum seekers “a warm welcome” by encouraging inter-cultural exchange and contributing “to the creation of an open society” in the long run.
Such arrangements offer mutual advantages. Refugees are able to live in dignified and homely spaces whilst familiarising themselves with the local language and culture, and making friends. Those hosting them learn about a different culture and help out a person in need. Take the case of Johann Schmidt, a teacher who shares his apartment in Konstanz, Germany with a refugee from Iraq. Schmidt says:
“Azad tells me about his home country time and again, and can explain the overall context of the current situation to me in simple terms. I very much enjoy listening to his stories.”
The process of matching refugees to their new housemates is a gradual one. Once an external agency working with refugees suggests possible pairings, everyone has met and is happy with each other, the person moves in. The rent can be financed through a variety of means, such as government allowances, micro-donations and crowdfunding. The people who have signed up to the original German website to host refugees range from consultants, bus drivers, carpenters and students, and are anywhere between 21 and 65 years old.
Refugees Welcome has gained considerable attention and is expanding to around thirty other countries, including many in Europe, such as Italy, Hungary and Greece, and others in North and South America, Asia and Australia. The initiative provides a practical solution to housing the growing number of refugees that are fleeing their countries in search of better horizons. In Europe alone, half a million people have arrived from the Middle East and North Africa since the beginning of 2015.
— Mark (@markito0171) August 30, 2015
Even more importantly Refugees Welcome seeks the help of common citizens to breed “a new culture of welcome” where refugees don’t remain socially excluded but live in dignified conditions and on equal terms with everyone else. Not only is this an act of human kindness, it is the sustainable foundation of inclusive and flourishing societies. So let’s open our homes and hearts to the brave people who seek a better life away from home by signing up in our home countries and helping Refugees Welcome expand internationally.
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