'Refugees Welcome' - platform matches refugees with potential housemates in Germany, Austria

In the first few days, they had matched 122 refugees to shared flats.

AS thousands of people desperately escaping conflict and poverty pour into Europe - some 300,000 this year alone, according to the UN - it has exposed some deep divisions in the bloc. Some Europeans and governments are refusing to accept more, others are building barriers while others simply will not help them. 

At the grass-root level however there has been a growing cry from individuals insisting governments respect the dignity of these people, with battles erupting about how to label or categorise these groups of people. 

In Berlin, a couple took this a step further, offering people in Germany and Austria a new avenue in helping refugees - by giving them a place to live. 

Mareike Geiling and Jonas Kakoschke believe that refugees should not be stigmatised and excluded by being housed in mass accommodations. Instead, that they should be offered a warm welcome, establishing a more humane culture of dealing with refugees.

The site, Flüchtlinge Willkommen (Refugees Welcome), asks whether residents of Austria or Germany are unhappy with the way refugees are treated in their countries and, in order to help refugees settle more easily, whether they are able to spare a room in their flat. 

In its first few days, Refugees Welcome matched 122 refugees to shared flats - and has been growing.

Soon after launch,  moved in to 80 homes in Augsburg, Berlin, Bonn, Darmstadt, Dortmund, Dresden, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Hanover, Konstanz, Leipzig, Marburg, Munich, Munster, Norderstedt, Offenburg and Wolfratshausen. Through Refugees Welcome Austria (the Austrian sister-organisation) people have moved in to 44 places in Eisenstadt, Knittelfeld, Salzburg and Vienna. 

The new 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 process

After they sign up, an external organisation that works with refugees in that city will help find a suitable flatmate - based on the individual and living situation. To help cover the rent, Mareike and Jonas recommend using micro-donations: several people provide small donations on a monthly basis. 

From their experience, they sent email requests to friends and acquaintances, and within two weeks ensured rent for a whole year. The commitments range between 3€ and 50€ per month, using monthly bank transfers or up-front donations. Another option is to use an established platform to crowdfund.

Another option could be to get help from the state. Several federal states in Germany, such as Berlin, offer support for refugees to move out of shared accommodation and help finance the new residence. Thus, if a refugee with approved residency moves into a shared flat in Berlin, the rent should generally be paid for by the federal state. However, there are different regulations for every federal state.

They say that the housing refugees in private accommodation brings advantages for both sides: refugees are able to live in adequate accommodation, learn the language better, and adjust to the new environment more easily. The roommate on the other hand, will get to know a different culture and help a person in a difficult situation.

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