Germany’s ‘Airbnb for refugees’

People offering lodging are asked what languages they speak to help ensure the matches work

Refugees welcome: a banner  in Dortmund, Germany. Photograph: IStock

Refugees welcome: a banner in Dortmund, Germany. Photograph: IStock

 

Impact Journalism Day (June 25th, 2016) focuses on solutions-based journalism. Fifty-five leading media organisations from 50 countries, including The Irish Times, are sharing stories of innovative solutions to social issues around the world, in an initiative developed by Sparknews. Read our articles here: irishtimes.com/news/impact-journalism-day and follow the conversation on Twitter through #ImpactJournalism and #StoryOfChange

When the draft papers arrived from the Syrian army his father told him it was time to get out. So Hamad, a 24-year-old IT student in Damascus, hit the road for a perilous month and a half: through Turkey, Greece, Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Italy and France, and then, last September, into Germany.

German social services, overwhelmed, lodged him in a disused Berlin classroom with eight other men. Then an internet-based organisation called Flüchtlinge Willkommen, or Refugees Welcome – which is often described as Airbnb for refugees – stepped in.

It brought Hamad together with Constantin Thieme, a medical student who is also 24. Hamad now has a room of his own in Thieme’s apartment: a dresser, a cupboard, a bed and a window with a view of his new neighbourhood, in the gentrifying district of Wedding.

Thieme says it was easy to offer the extra bedroom through the website, which connects refugees with families, retirees, students – anyone with a room to spare.

He was already renting out his bedroom on a short-term basis; now he could help refugees at the same time.

Refugees Welcome was created in late 2014 by three young Germans, Mareike Geiling, Jonas Kakoschke and Golde Ebding. Their wanted to improve conditions for refugees, who often live in camps outside towns and cities, and therefore lack any chance to integrate.

The organisation now has six full-time staff and 60 volunteers, and has helped house 287 refugees across Germany.

Its success is spreading as far and wide as the refugees themselves, with national websites in Portugal, the Netherlands, Canada, Austria, Spain, Poland, Greece, Sweden and Italy. More than 5,000 flatshares are currently registered worldwide.

After users register an available room, the charity connects them with local refugee organisations, which have lists of registered asylum seekers. Refugees Welcome can even help find ways to pay the refugee’s rent, if needed. Thieme, for example, raised €500 from Facebook friends while waiting for the government to complete Hamad’s paperwork. “It was really amazing how positive the reactions were,” he says.

To ensure the match will be good, people offering lodging are asked what languages they speak, what their housemates, if any, are like, and to describe their city and surroundings. The website’s volunteers mediate any disputes or problems in flatshares, which must last at least six months, and usually last from eight to 12.

refugees-welcome.net; you can watch a video about Refugees Welcome at bit.ly/28JgFTe

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.