Student housemates learn from each other
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.
We don’t like to label him as a refugee.
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 at first too. They told me to be careful that he doesn’t suppress us, or treat us badly as women. But they know Bashir now. Nga and I really enjoy changing people’s perception by telling them about our story.”
Portrait by Aubrey Wade
Assisted by Stjepan Sedlar
Text by Sarah Böttcher
This story is part of the No Stranger Place series, which tells stories of refugees and locals living together in Europe. The project was initiated by Aubrey Wade, Sarah Böttcher and Stjepan Sedlar, and developed in partnership with UNHCR and Nadine Alfa.