Other Stories
  • Germany. The Jellinek family hosts Syrian Muslim Kinan from Damascus, in Berlin Mitte.
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
  • Austria. Margarethe Kramer (59) hosts Iraqi refugee Souad Awad (49) in Lavanttal.
  • 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?"
  • Wilhelm, Brian and Inas, a refugee from Syria, met through a chance encounter on a train just four days after Inas arrived in Germany. Ten days later, Inas moved in with the couple of 25 years, in November 2015. 

Inas was making his way back to Berlin after going to visit a friend from Syria. Unsure whether it was the right train, he asked Wilhelm and Brian, sat nearby. With the help of Google Translate on their phones, the three struck up a conversation and then exchanged numbers.

Inas didn't yet know anybody in the city and was staying in an emergency shelter. "We were in contact through Whatsapp every day - morning, lunchtime, evening," says Inas. Soon thereafter he was moved to a gym-turned-refugee-shelter, where he shared the hall with 200 people. He says there were no mattresses on the beds, exacerbating the pain in his back from a slipped disc injury, and he had terrible problems sleeping. When Brian and Wilhelm visited him they told him he'd be welcome to stay at theirs for a few days.

During his registration interview Inas was asked if he had friends or relatives in Berlin, he texted Brain to ask if he could put down their names.

"When he asked whether he could say that we were friends," says Wilhelm, “we said 'of course, you can give them our address, get the post sent here and even stay with us for a few days at the beginning.' We told him to give the authorities our number in case they had any questions, because at the time we struggled to understand each other."

Inas was then given a document, his first permit to stay in Germany, valid for three months. On the third page it stated: "the owner of this document is obliged to live at the following initial reception institution," followed by Brian and Wilhelm's address.

"It came as quite a surprise to us of course," says Brian. "At first we were completely unsure of all the implications, three months is a long time. But we talked with our friends and decided: let's do it!"

"We had been wanting to h
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