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."
  • 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
  • Germany. Manuela and Jörg Buisset, and daughter Nöemi (18), host Nourhan (18), who just delivered her second child (not pictured), Ahmed (28), and their daughter Alin (18 months) in Berlin.
  • Originally from Damascus, Mouhanad fled his war-torn country in 2012. He initially went to Libya, and eventually embarked on the perilous journey to Europe in September 2015. After six rough days on the road, he stopped to shower and rest in Vienna. And, in those 48 hours, Mourad says he fell in love with Vienna and decided to stay. As soon as he got to a refugee reception centre, Mouhanad started helping in the kitchen, learned the language and made friends. He got his asylum papers in six months and soon after, moved in with his new flatmates. Valerie said the roommates were initially concerned Mouhanad might require a lot of assistance, and guidance. They were pleasantly surprised. "Mouhanad knows more people than we do. His list of contacts is incredible and we didn't have to step in – he doesn't need us at all," Valerie said. "He is standing on his own feet very well," said Roman. "We thought we might have to look after him like a younger brother but we didn't have to do anything. He's also very orderly, very organized, a very German Syrian." Nora describes Mouhanad as very caring, always smiling and giving back to others. "He found his place in Austria very quickly," she said. Mouhanad co-founded a group called Refugees for Refugees and wants to get his Master's degree.
  • 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.
  • Austria. Margarethe Kramer (59) hosts Iraqi refugee Souad Awad (49) in Lavanttal.
  • 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
  • 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
@