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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
  • 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
  • Germany. The Jellinek family hosts Syrian Muslim Kinan from Damascus, in Berlin Mitte.
  • 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
  • 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.
  • Newruz, a refugee from Syria lives with Claudia and Tobias in Berlin, Germany.

At the beginning of their friendship, Newruz (20) couldn't stay with Claudia and Tobias in Berlin for more than a few days at a time. The Kurdish Syrian from Homs arrived in Germany in July 2015, but was registered and housed in a refugee centre in Meißen in Saxony, Tobias' hometown. 

After news of repeated arson attacks on asylum centres, Claudia and Tobias decided they wanted to do something positive. On their next visit to Tobias's family home, they organised a guided walk for residents of the local refugee centre, to explore the nature areas in and around Meißen. Newruz joined in and they struck up a friendship.

Claudia and Tobias, who both grew up in former East Germany, escaped to West Berlin in the 1980s, Claudia just two years before the Berlin wall came down. "At the end of the day, we are all refugees," she says with a smile.

"When we first told my father that Newruz would move in with us," Tobias says, "he smiled and his eyes sparkled. I wasn't expecting such a positive reaction. He told us that in 1945 every public building in Meißen housed refugees. And when he was a child, they had a refugee woman from Poland living with them for a while too. The only difference is that today they come from further afield."

In December, Newruz came to visit them in Berlin and stayed for ten days over Christmas. “So we could get to know each other,” says Claudia.

Finally, after waiting nine months for his papers, Newruz officially moved in with Claudia and Tobias in March 2016. With an agreement from the job centre to cover the rent, Newruz was free to chose where he lives. Claudia says, "this arrangement means we are equals. Sometimes I catch myself mothering him a little, because we have children that are his age, but we are really more like flatmates."

"Berlin and Homs are very similar," Says Newruz. "In terms of food, cycling around the streets. Maybe the markets are a bit b
  • 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
  • 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."
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