The founders of Berlin-based organisation Refugees Welcome, Jonas Kakoschke and Mareike Geiling, believe that there is a better way to welcome refugees to European cities. Their site matches citizens who are willing to share their homes with displaced refugees, providing a more integrated and humanitarian reception to those forced to flee their own homes.
In December 2014 the first refugee, a man from Mali, moved in with the cofounders. Since then nearly 800 people have registered rooms on the site and so far 134 refugees have been found homes: 82 in cities across Germany and 52 in Austria. According to the site, participants with spare rooms include carpenters, students, single mothers and even politicians. The refugee flatmates are from Afghanistan, Algeria, Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Russia, Senegal, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Syria and Tunisia.
The cofounders believe that refugees should not be stigmatised or segregated in mass accommodation. Instead, it should become a part of our culture to welcome refugees. The non-profit organisation only arranges placements for a minimum period of three months or more, so that refugees are not placed in another situation of uncertainty and are able to plan ahead to a certain degree. In order to provide homeowners with support, the website offers advice on how to finance the rent. Some of the cost can be arranged through micro-donations via Refugees Welcome and a portion is often available through the federal state (Berlin, for example, offers financial support to refugees wanting to move out of mass accommodation).
The idea is spreading across Europe. Earlier this week Icelanders, through a Facebook group called “Syria is calling”, wrote an open letter to the government stating that they were willing to take in and accommodate more Syrian refugees. Refugees Welcome has also been receiving inquiries from Greece, Portugal, Scotland and also the US and Australia.
Kakoschke studied communications design and specialises in social innovation and project development. Geiling previously worked for an organisation that provided language courses for refugees living in Berlin without a permit.