Other Stories
  • Thorsten Winz and Heino Sieberath host Syrian refugee Bashir Altawil, 19, in Vienna, Austria.

Originally from Damascus, Bashir, arrived in Austria in December 2014 and received his residency papers 18 months later. He signed up with an organisation called Refugees Welcome which introduced him to Thorsten and Heino. 

"I have friends from everywhere. I love Austria, it is so beautiful and open minded," said Bashir. "I love acting, the arts, it's very modern here, but I miss Syria too." He says he's been able to improve his German by living with Thorsten and Heino because they always help and correct him if needed. He also jokes that he's also learned how to iron his own shirts and clean up after himself for the first time.   

"We felt obligated to bring our own efforts for integration," Heino explained. "We thought it's our duty to help improve the situation, so we brought someone in."

Thorsten and Heino say Bashir is hard working, ambitious, and always helping others. "For a person that just came to this country and never had contact to Western Europe before, he is very open minded," Thorsten said. "He's observant, sensitive and he recognizes quite well what his role is in this community."
  • Jonas Paint-ner flat shares with Lina Wagner, Gotti Stoeckl and Palestinian refugee Yassin Hawwa, in Vienna, Austria. Jonas and Yassin have quickly become thick friends. Yassin, 26, who studied filmmaking was forced to flee south Lebanon and head to Europe in July 2015 after filming a documentary about Islamic extremism. He and his friends were beaten, threatened and harassed by followers of a powerful sheikh they had interviewed. In Vienna, he met Jonas who is studying Communication Science and was invited to share their flat with Lina and Gotti. "We get along great, Jonas is one of my best friends now. We spend a lot of time together and are making a short movie together," said Yassin. "He is definitely a friend” says Jonas. “We cook and eat together and help each other out with projects, ideas, especially media projects together. We also party together."
  • Originally from Damascus, Mouhanad fled his war-torn country in 2012. He initially went to Libya, and eventually embarked on the perilous journey to Europe in September 2015. After six rough days on the road, he stopped to shower and rest in Vienna. And, in those 48 hours, Mourad says he fell in love with Vienna and decided to stay. As soon as he got to a refugee reception centre, Mouhanad started helping in the kitchen, learned the language and made friends. He got his asylum papers in six months and soon after, moved in with his new flatmates. Valerie said the roommates were initially concerned Mouhanad might require a lot of assistance, and guidance. They were pleasantly surprised. "Mouhanad knows more people than we do. His list of contacts is incredible and we didn't have to step in – he doesn't need us at all," Valerie said. "He is standing on his own feet very well," said Roman. "We thought we might have to look after him like a younger brother but we didn't have to do anything. He's also very orderly, very organized, a very German Syrian." Nora describes Mouhanad as very caring, always smiling and giving back to others. "He found his place in Austria very quickly," she said. Mouhanad co-founded a group called Refugees for Refugees and wants to get his Master's degree.
  • Stephanie (34), her husband Olaf (44), and their two children, Kevin (13 - who did not wish to be pictured), Oscar (1), host Bhzad, a refugee from Syria, in Berlin Lichtenberg, Germany.

Bhzad, a computer engineer from Damascus, loves to be out in nature, climbing in the mountains or hiking in the woods. Before the war started in Syria he and friends would regularly organise group trips together. It was on one such trip to the mountains, where they camped beside a lake for a week, that he met Sara, his future wife.

“Every morning we saw each other again and fell more in love,” he says.

But when it became too dangerous to stay in Syria, he was forced to leave her behind. 

When Bhzad arrived in Berlin, he found he had no place to stay and spent the first two nights sleeping outdoors. Then, following his registration, came a spell at a hostel. But when the owners threw him and others out whilst keeping their documents, he found himself once more without a place to stay.

This is when Stephanie and her family stepped in, offering him a room in their home in early November 2015. Stephanie says, that some hostel owners kick people out whilst holding on to their documents, so that they can continue to collect money from the state, whilst also taking in new people. “It's crazy that some people are giving everything they have to help whilst others are making a lot of money from this situation” she says. 

Stephanie and her family had been providing short-term emergency accommodation for refugee families since August. But when she heard about Bhzad through the volunteer networks she's involved with, Stephanie thought “he really needs to arrive finally and have a place to rest. The house is large enough and we have a small guest room, in which he'll be comfortable.”

Stephanie says, "Bzad has been very easy to live with. He speaks English and is taking German classes, so we can communicate easily. He helps in the house and his gentle and quiet nature make him a
  • Sweden. Single mother and librarian, Linnea Tell, hosts Syrian gay Muslim artist, Alqumit Alhamad, who is now thriving in Malmö.
  • Marianne Grasl, Rolf Nagel and Leo Grasl (18) host Somali refugee Leyla Mahamud and her baby boy Zacharia who was born April 29, 2016, a few weeks after she moved in, in Vienna, Austria. Marianne, a primary school teacher, wanted to offer her empty room to a refugee but she wasn't sure she could handle living with a newborn baby. "At first I wasn't sure I could live with a crying baby but it worked out. He rarely cries and when he does it's so quietly, Laila calms him down immediately," Marianne says. "Now, if he cries I take him. I love having them here." Marianne's partner, Rolf, is an electrical engineer who volunteers by teaching German language classes to refugees a couple of times a week. "I supported Marianne from the beginning with this decision. Take in a refugee into your home to verify if it's true or not what is written in the media. I want to have direct contact with them and see and discover their world. I want to find out how they are on my own. I believe that why they came here, whatever they fled from, must have been really bad," said Rolf. Laila left Mogadishu in 2009 after she got entangled in a complicated web of honour killings. When she refused to marry a man her family arranged for her, she ran away and married someone else. Her family killed her new husband and then his family sought to kill her in revenge. They kidnapped her daughter and locked Laila up, but she escaped and fled to Saudi Arabia, then Turkey, then Vienna in March 2015. " I was so scared when I first came here," Laila says, "but they are so good to me." She is trying to learn the language so she can start working.
  • When the Nga and Ruth, both students, were looking for a new housemate to join them in August 2015, Ruth suggested they offer the room to a refugee. Nga was sceptical at first. 

"I didn't want to live in a flatshare of convenience. It's important to me to live with people who are equals, who I have things in common with and who become friends."

They registered with the Refugees Welcome (Flüchtlinge Willkommen) website and were soon introduced to Bashir, a 19-year-old refugee from Afghanistan. Ruth and Nga invited him to come over for pizza and the three got on immediately. He moved in straight away.

Sharing with two women was a new experience for Bashir. “When I first came to Germany, I was quite shocked to see the freedom people enjoyed here. Girls doing what they liked, not wearing headscarves, people drinking in the street and at parties. I was amazed and excited, and I got used to it quickly. I am a Muslim myself but I don't believe in the restrictions. I think that the world would be a better place if Muslim women had freedom.”

Nga says the housemates share everything. They cook together, go out together, and keep their doors open to one another, just like a regular flatshare. "When we watch movies, we alternate rooms. Sometimes I have a nap in Bashir's room, or we watch TV in mine."

They all laugh when Nga adds that “Bashir takes the longest time in the bathroom!"

“Bashir is a Berliner now”, says Ruth. “We don't like to label him as a refugee. We are just friends and housemates.” 

Nga came to Berlin from Ha Long City in Vietnam when she was twelve. She visits her family and the country often, and a poster of beautiful Halong Bay adorns her wall. "My relatives advised against sharing a house with a refugee," she says. "They were worried because there is a lot of negative news in the media about the refugee politics in Germany. They hadn't heard about all the positive projects happening."

Ruth agrees: “Relatives of mine were apprehensive
  • Sweden. Married couple Gabriella and Candel Webster host Syrian Ahmad Lababidi, his son, Ali, 18 and daughter, Hiba (16) who is not pictured, in Malmö.
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