Other Stories
  • 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.
  • 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
  • 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
  • Sweden. Single mother and librarian, Linnea Tell, hosts Syrian gay Muslim artist, Alqumit Alhamad, who is now thriving in Malmö.
  • 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
  • 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."
  • 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."
@