”Refugees Welcome”- Initiator Jonas Kakoschke and Bakary Konan in their kitchen. Credits: Der Tagesspiegel

”Refugees Welcome”- Initiator Jonas Kakoschke and Bakary Konan in their kitchen. Credits: Der Tagesspiegel

by Hagia Jany

Among the countless refugee initiatives, there is one which has frequently come across my path in recent times: The initiative “Refugees Welcome” which asks the uncomfortable question, why refugees just can’t live in normal housing situations instead of mass accommodation. After I bumped into a presentation of the project on a little festival a few weeks ago, I took a closer look at that inspiring project.

It all started in the apartment of graphic designer Jonas Kakoschke and cultural scientist Mareike Geiling in Berlin- Wedding. Following the omnipresent media coverage on refugees, they were especially alarmed by the precarious situation in overcrowded camps far away from the city. Motivated by the call of a refugee initiative for private dwelling, they wrote an email to their family and friends asking for micro-donations to support their idea: Instead of subletting Mareike’s room during her stay abroad they wanted to give the room to a refugee. The two Berliners never expected the impressive resonance to their request: Within only a month the room’s rent for one year was financed by donations mainly from 3-10 Euro. A friend who worked as a German teacher for refugees connected them to Bakary, a Malian who had asked her if knew a place to sleep after he lived for one year on the streets of Berlin. They met up in a café, got along with each other right away and Bakary moved in with them. Hearing the three talking reinforces the impression that their plan worked out quite well. According to them all persons involved benefit from the living together. Bakary’s eyes shine when he says: ‘This is my family, I just want to thank them’.

This sounds too easy? Well, according to Jonas and Mareike it actually was. That is why they wanted to show others that giving a free room to a refugee is much easier than you would probably think. Together with the social worker Golde Ebding they reserved the website and spread their idea in the social networks – with an overwhelming response. What started as a personal enterprise has within only a few months become a larger project in Germany, there also exists an Austrian branch. Until today 980 shared apartments in cities such as Berlin, Hamburg, Leipzig, Darmstadt, Frankfurt and Munich had registered on the website. Out of 990 refugees from countries like Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Ghana, Iran and Libya 52 were already accommodated. Participation is quite simple: People with free rooms in their shared flats and refugees can register on the website. Together with the local refugee support and NGOs, “Refugees Welcome” tries to find a good match. They also help finding solutions financing the room via government aid, micro-donations or crowdfunding. Beyond that, “Refugees Welcome” tries to help in all kind of questions concerning the living together.

What’s so special about the initiative to explain its extraordinary success? An important aspect surely is the catchy layout of their website. Jonas says they deliberately chose a design which rather addresses newcomers to the refugee issue. Using the typical style of many radical left-wing groups would possibly have excluded some interested parties. Another decisive fact could be the interdisciplinary team mainly outside the field, which certainly encourages people to become active themselves. However, Refugees Welcome could be listed as a flagship project to demonstrate the positive effects the internet could have for brave ideas. It proves not only that reality is negotiable, but also that it is time to establish another welcoming culture in Germany.

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