With 200,000 refugees applying for asylum in Germany, and with desperate towns and government officials suggesting housing them in old concentration camps, one young couple stepped up with an innovative new idea. Mareike Geiling and Jonas Kakosche created a website known as Refugees Welcome which works like Airbnb to match refugees with charitable individuals who are willing to live or provide home to a refugee, and the living expenses of the refugee are covered through donations and other refugee organizations. To this point, 124 refugees have successfully found a home (80 in Germany and 44 in Austria), and a further 400 applications have been lodged and are awaiting successful placement.
One of Geiling and Kakosche’s criticisms of the current refugee system is that oftentimes refugees are held apart from society, unable to better themselves through work or education. Kakosche, in an interview said:
Many asylum-seekers have to stay there for years … doing nothing, because they are not allowed to do anything.They are not allowed to work, they are not allowed to have German classes sometimes and sometimes it’s not a city, it’s a village and there’s nothing to do and so you get depressed after years and stuff like this,”
It is the belief of Refugees Welcome that the mass housing projects, while well intentioned, strip away the dignity of the refugees and that more should be done to welcome them with open arms. The work of Refugees Welcome seems all more important now, particularly with the recent rise of far right attacks on refugee centers and a rise of xenophobia in Germany against the refugee population.
Leading by Example
Geiling and Kakosche not only founded Refugees Welcome, they also were one of the first people to host a refugee in their flat. An experience they say, that opened their eyes not only to the challenges refugees faced but the rewarding experience that comes from living with an individual who has a culture completely separate from your own.
Geiling and Kakosche hosted a 39 year old Muslim male (name unknown for safety reasons) who, prior to being placed with them described his life prior to being the first of “Refugees Welcome
Sometimes I’d take the bus from different sector to different sector at nighttime until, you know, 2:30″ in the morning, he says. Then he’d “get out and sleep for 20 minutes and go back on the train again sometimes and go back in the mosque and pray there for 30 minutes and sleep there for one hour.
Now, Kakosche jokes that their apartment has never been cleaner, and that they fundraise his 430 euros a month living expenses through what Refugees Welcome have dubbed “micro-finance” in which the ask friends, family, and other organizations for small donations of 5 to 10 euros in order to build all the way up to the full amount necessary.
A Praiseworthy Endeavor
Though their donations and work exist on a small scale, with the continued influx of refugees and the desperation of governments to provide housing and services to refugees, it seems like Kakosche and Geiling have created an important non profit that can grow into a larger operation throughout Europe to help restore some dignity to those coming to Europe in search of a more stable life. Amidst a grave crisis, Geiling and Kaksosche have created something that gives hope to Europe’s successful ability to solve its migrant crisis.