IMPACT
09/03/2015 09:39 am ET | Updated Nov 02, 2015

'Airbnb For Refugees' Sees Surge Of People Willing To Help

Germany is preparing to welcome 800,000 asylum-seekers this year.

Credit: TOBIAS SCHWARZ via Getty Images
Syrian refugees queue outside outside the State Office of Health and Social Affairs in Berlin (LAGeSo) where hundreds of migrants wait to receive help from the Berlin administration on August 25, 2015. 

A German website that’s been described as the “Airbnb for refugees” is being inundated with individuals wishing to open up their homes to people fleeing violence and terrorism.

Founded late last year, the Berlin-based Refugees Welcome website helps users who are willing to house a refugee find someone who is a good match to be their new roommate via a local refugee organization.

According to the Guardian, the website has been a huge success, prompting an Austrian spinoff and individuals in other countries -- including Greece, Portugal and the U.K. -- also want to create their own versions.

 So far, the site has over 800 German hosts and, according to its website, has placed 134 refugees in homes in Germany and Austria. 

The site’s founders are a young Berlin couple, 31-year-old graphic designer Jonas Kakoschke and 28-year-old teacher Mareike Geiling. The two explained to NPR they were frustrated with news that asylum-seekers coming to Germany were being housed in old schools and re-purposed shipping containers and wanted to come up with a better option.

"We don't like the idea of putting these people into one place where many, many people live,” Geiling told NPR.

Once a roommate match is made, the organization offers a few options to help hosts finance the rent they might otherwise be receiving for the space they are offering to their new roommate -- private micro-donations, crowdfunding or requesting state support for housing a refugee with approved residency.

Besides connecting the refugees with a safe home, the platform offers the added bonus of helping the refugees assimilate more quickly, Kakoschke explained to PRI.

"We think it brings the big benefit to refugees that it's really easier and faster to learn German, to feel as a part of our society here," Kakoschke said.

The hosts benefit, too, as they get to know someone from a different background than themselves. One of them, Katie Griggs, told CNN the experience of welcoming a pregnant woman from Nigeria into her two-flat temporarily was “brilliant” as she learned about Nigerian food, music and culture. 

The number of refugees living in Germany has never been higher with an estimated 800,000 migrants expected to arrive in the country this year, according to Reuters. That’s four times the number that came last year. 

Many Germans appear on board with welcoming the asylum-seekers.

Fans of the nation’s soccer team have expressed support and Munich police were so “overwhelmed” by locals’ donations of food and other supplies for new arrivals from Hungary that they have asked for the donations to stop. Some German colleges are allowing refugees to attend classes for free, while a group of young entrepreneurs in Dresden created an app to help them become acclimated to their new surroundings.

Residents of Iceland are also welcoming refugees -- many of whom are fleeing war-torn Syria -- with open arms, even if their government has been slow to follow suit.

 

 

 

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