Other Stories
  • 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."
  • 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."
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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?"
  • Austria. Sabine David, husband Dominique and daughter Nora, 1, host Afghan refugee Nooria Youldash and her 2-year-old daughter, Aysu, in Lavanttal.
  • 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.
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