Mareike Geiling from Flüchtlinge Willkommen tells us how housing refugees in private accommodation brings advantages for both sides: refugees are able to live in adequate accommodation, learn the language and adjust to the new environment more easily, while housemates get to know a different culture and help a person in a difficult situation. WIN WIN!
This article was originally published in September 2015.
What was your motivation for starting Flüchtlinge Willkommen?
We don't like the practice of mass accommodation for refugees in Germany, as we feel it leads to stigmatization and exclusion. So we started to look for alternative housing options - namely ways to let refugees live in shared flats or other normal housing situations. The goal was to open up our homes, and in doing so, offer refugees a warm welcome.
That’s what we wanted to do with Flüchtlinge Willkommen – to establish a more humane culture of welcoming refugees in Germany! On the platform you can register your flat and then get in contact with a refugee. We also help the shared flats find funding to cover the cost of the rent.
It actually all began when I went to Cairo in September 2014. My room in my shared flat with Jonas, my now co-founder, was available so we decided to let a refugee live in that room. To finance the rent, we asked friends and family to support us with monthly micro-fundings. After two weeks, the rent was financed for 9 months. After this worked out so well, we decided to try and start it as an initiative throughout Germany. We then met Golde, our third-co-founder, who liked the idea from day one. We then launched the platform in November 2014.
What’s the response been from the different stakeholders? Have people been supportive of the concept?
I feel that a lot of people support the idea and want to help refugees. One small example of that- within this short time we’ve gotten over 11.000 likes on Facebook. The German government hasn’t supported us at all yet - but we also haven’t asked for any support. Sometimes we are in contact with authorities and this has worked out well. We do work together with a number of NGOs who care for refugees, many of the housing matchings are done with their help.
In your opinion, what needs to happen in order to change the current discourse surrounding refugees in Berlin and Germany as a whole?
In our experience, people are extremely helpful and care deeply about the issues of refugees. They support us in many ways. But of course, it depends on whom you ask.
In general, I think that we should all try to get to know refugees better and try to understand their personal story - what made them flee their home country and why did the come to Europe.
What’s been your proudest moment?
There have been many moments that make us really happy. Perhaps the most recent one was this morning, when we watched a video on ARTE where they portrayed our sister organization in Austria. It was a nice reminder that we made this happen in Austria as well!
But the best moments are of course when we get messages from refugees who thank us for the initiative...
Please share your top 3 learnings – what would you advise others starting their own social business or social project?
- Make sure you know who exactly is your target group and figure out how to best reach them (e.g. through your brand identity and design).
- Go online quick and dirty - and do the small adjustments afterwards. They are part of the project and you’re always smarter after.
- It's always good to try the idea on yourself before taking it public (as we did when we hosted a refugee). It increases your credibility and helps you relate to your users.