In Germany, a kind of 'Airbnb' for refugees

An 'Airbnb for refugees' is trying to help those fleeing from conflict in the Middle East and north Africa find housing in Germany.

Patrick Pleul/AP
There is a new refugee placement service called Refugees Welcome that matches German and Austrian citizens willing to share their homes with displaced people.

As Europe’s refugee crisis persists, there’s been positive global efforts to help alleviate the situation – from the Egyptian billionaire offering to buy a Mediterranean island for refugees, to some German universities offering free education to refugees, to more than 10,000 Icelandic citizens volunteering to take in migrants.

Now a group of young Berlin residents are taking their compassion and creativity in a new direction. 

They have created an online matchmaking service where German and Austrian residents can share their homes with refugees. Think of it as "Airbnb for refugees."

Flüchtlinge Willkommen or Refugees Welcome has begun helping find semi-permanent housing for people fleeing from Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Mali, Nigeria, Pakistan, Somalia ,and Syria. More than 780 Germans have signed up to the online platform and 26 people have found homes through its services, the Guardian reports.

Jonas Kakoschke, one of the site’s co-founders, told Al Jazeera that the platform provides displaced people a better alternative to mass housing and helps them integrate into the German culture.  

"Mass housing is usually placed far outside the main cities which makes it really hard for the refugees to participate in German society. They are excluded and isolated, usually somewhere in a village or in small cities," he said.

In some cases, the refugees are paying for their rooms either via government programs or micro-donations on the Refugees Welcome site. The organization requests a minimum stay of three months. 

The record number of migrants in the European refugee crisis has seen European governments accused of not doing enough and some European civilians have been taking matters into their own hands.  

“Many people, particularly in southern and eastern Europe, have responded with an activism rarely seen in their countries – but may lack the long-haul energy and resources to sustain it,” Alexis Xydias reported for The Christian Science Monitor.

Lack of government funding – or a history of civic organizations and volunteerism – may limit the duration or scope of the public support.   

“It is great that citizens are stepping up, but it also shows there is very low capacity to incorporate this number of volunteers,” Gabriella Civico, director of the European Volunteer Center in Brussels, a network of volunteer groups told the Monitor. “What you are seeing is spontaneous volunteering that is not sustainable in the long term due to lack of funding and support for volunteering infrastructure.”

Although "Refugees Welcome" was founded last year, it has recently received an unprecedented response due to the surge of refugees entering Europe.

“We are overwhelmed by people’s readiness to help,” the group told The Guardian. “We are now receiving inquiries from different countries within Europe such as Greece, Portugal and Scotland, but also from Australia and the U.S."

“Everywhere, people are keen to realize this idea in their countries to be able to offer refugees a home.”

Over the weekend, Germany opened its doors to more than 7,000 refugees who arrived from Hungary where they were stuck for days. The country is expected to take in up to 800,000 refugees this year, more than twice as many as the 300,000 new arrivals predicted in January.

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