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  • 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
  • Germany. Edgar and Amelie Rai with their two children, Nelly (9) and Moritz (12), host Syrian refugees and brothers, Bilal (26 - seated) and Amr (17) Aljaber, in Berlin.
  • Sabine Waldner with her daughters, Charlotte and Miriam, host two Syrian refugees, Juan (16) and Mohammed (16), classmates from Damascus, at their home in Falkensee, Germany. This portrait is part of the No Stranger Place series, which portrays locals and
  • 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.
  • Barbara Hebenstreit with husband Robert and daughters Elizabeth, 26, and Veronika, 21 host unaccompanied minor Sadeq (15) from Afghanistan in Langenzersdorf., Autria.

Sadeq who was born in Afghanistan and grew up in Iran fled to Austria in October 2015. He was forced to leave after witnessing the horrific murder of his father at the hands of his employer. The police did nothing against the powerful business owner who kept harassing and threatening Sadeq and his family. Even a year after the murder, Sadeq, his mother, and two sisters moved to another village to avoid the man but he followed them and tried to run Sadeq down with his car. He was concerned Sadeq might try to avenge his father’s death. The young man packed a small backpack and set out for Europe by foot, bus, train, and boat. 
“I feel very lucky to be here otherwise I would be dead. They are like my family,” said Sadeq. 

The Hebenstreits welcomed him into their home after meeting Sadeq at a camp for unaccompanied children. It was Veronica’s idea to become a host family.   

“My biggest problem is worrying about the safety of my family still in Iran. I want to become a police officer to help people here. My dream is to get permanent residency and get my family over,” he said.

Barbara, who is a tourist guide, speaks proudly of Sadeq’s achievements. 

“It’s like he is my fifth child. It’s just the same,” said Barbara.

When people ask her how long he might stay with her, her response is always the same: “I don’t know, forever, how long do children stay at home with their parents?"
  • Susanne (52) and Stefan (47) host Fady (35), a Christian refugee from Egypt, in Nikolassee, Germany. When their children moved out, Susanne and Stefan decided they wanted to help by giving one of the spare rooms to a refugee, but didn't know how to go about it. Then they received a newsletter from their local church, which was trying to find families in the area to host newly arrived refugees. Through the church they met Fady, a Christian refugee from Egypt who'd fled religious persecution. They got along well and he moved in with them in August 2015. While he waited for his papers to arrive, he couldn't work, so he used the time to learn German, which he now speaks very well. And it's already paying dividends. In March he starts work as a coach and supervisor to Arabic-speaking refugees at a school for professional development in Berlin. And he's also on the verge of moving into his own home, a small flat Susanne and Stefan own in Reinickendorf and that luckily, their previous tenant has just moved out of. When Susanne and Stefan's children were still small their landlord decided to sell the building that houses their apartment, so Stefan and Susanne found four likeminded families, also with young children, to club together and buy it. Today, the same four families still live there, providing a stable community in which Fady was quickly integrated. But at first, Stefan says, “people where a little surprised that we would give our keys to a stranger.” Although he didn't like the city at first, Fady says “I love Berlin now”. Now he has friends and knows the city, he appreciates how multicultural it is. Although this was initially difficult for him, due to his negative experiences in Egypt, he now counts many Muslims amongst his friends. Fady has also found a home in the congregation of the local Syrian Orthodox church and is an active member of the recently founded “Begegnungschor”, a choir in which locals and refugees learn and perform songs from
  • Uta (44) hosts Hamid, a refugee from Afghanistan, in a small studio apartment in Berlin Marzahn, a sprawling estate of high-rise blocks in east Berlin. Built in the late seventies and early eighties to provide modern housing to residents of the city's older and (at the time) neglected central boroughs, the estate became characterised in the nineties by strong anti-migrant sentiment and support for far-right groups.

Uta has two children of her own. A son (17) who lives with her ex-husband and a daughter (22), who is studying in Hamburg.

After being off work with ill-health for two years Uta returned to Berlin in the summer of 2015, to attend a physical rehab centre in Potsdam and live near her mother. She also started a new job at a home for young refugees run by the German Red Cross, where she met Hamid.

They talked about music. He plays the flute and the piano and wants to learn more instruments. Uta plays the piano and the guitar. They had found a shared passion.

Uta now teaches Hamid the keyboard and encourages him to play her guitar. Hamid wants to study classical guitar and become a professional musician one day, but he feels short on confidence. He also likes rap and pop music "because you can talk about social problems."

“My neighbours have not been the most welcoming,” Uta tells us. Whenever Uta added Hamid's name to the letterbox it was quickly removed. Instead of numbers, letterboxes throughout Germany carry the name of the legally registered tenant on them, which means that it's hard to receive post if a name is missing. One of her neighbours told Uta “we don't want foreigners here” but Uta says she fights this kind of behaviour. “He's my son,” she replied, “you just have to get used to it.”

For Uta it was a real challenge. "I had to end friendships with people who didn't accept what I was doing. It was a shock to see how mean and small minded towards others people can be. It's exhausting. You really hit the edges of your energy and
  • 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
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