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Websites inspired by Airbnb provide asylum seekers with sense of belonging

9 October 20150 comments

Young citizens from across Europe have launched Airbnb-inspired websites that help house homeless asylum seekers.

The independently created websites match asylum seekers that have made it to Europe with hosts willing to provide free accommodation.

The websites were set up in response to the current refugee ‘crisis’, where hundreds of thousands of Syrian’s have been forced to flee their homes due to the brutal civil war tearing apart the country.

After the treacherous journey across the sea to Europe, many Syrians are forced into over-capacitated camps and makeshift accommodation.

While some countries are closing borders or trying to deter migrants through other means, many citizens have taken it into their own hands to help refugees by donating clothes and food and offering them a room in their own homes.

With such a positive response from citizens it made sense for passionate and tech savvy youths to create a platform to connect those who wanted to give with those who needed help.

One of the first websites created was German based ‘Refugees Welcome’ which matches refugees with hosts that are required to provide a room for a minimum of three months.

The idea came to co-founder Mareike Geiling, when she was temporarily teaching in Cairo and donated her vacant room to a Malian refugee through crowdsourcing his portion of the rent.

After speaking to her boyfriend and social-worker friend they decided to create a WordPress site and help others to do the same.

Hosts who sign up on the website are then matched with a refugee organisation and provided with ways of financing the rent.

Since starting in Berlin in November 2014 the project has matched 224 refugees to shared flats and has now been set up in Austria, Greece, Portugal and Spain.

The benefits that refugees receive from the service go far beyond shelter and a home.

“You learn German better, you can build up a network, you can be proud of the community, people who live in Germany can help you a lot better to settle down,” Mareike told Vice during an interview.

The project also enables the humanising of refugees, which is arguably one of the major walls needed to be broken down in order to view the situation in a non-political way.

“We have heard a lot from the people hosting refugees that they don’t see refugees any more as an anonymous mass of people,” said Mareike.

Another website, which was recently started, is called ‘Refugee Hero’ and allows not only homeowners but also other institutions such as schools and churches to list and supply available accommodation.

The project was created by three friends in their mid-twenties from the Netherlands with the hopes of it growing into a site to help with other necessary migration-linked problems such as applying for a passport or finding a school for children.

The start-up was created after the three founders recognised that unorthodox solutions were needed to solve the current humanitarian crisis due to shelters and government institutions reaching maximum capacity.

While these initiatives are helpful and a testament to the good will of the everyday person, it’s necessary to be aware of the full gravity of what that help can be.

Refugees are likely to have been traumatised by the stressful experiences they have endured during their journey to finding to safety.

The everyday person isn’t necessarily capable, equipped or suitable to deal with the repercussions of those experiences, for example knowing the correct course of action to help refugees that suffer from depression or post-traumatic stress disorder.

Extensive research, vetting and organisation by legitimate and expert authorities are essential in order to provide a sustainable solution.



Ruby Brown
AMES Australia Staff Writer