Spare room initiative helps house refugees

What began as a bid to fill a spare room in Berlin has spiralled into an international template for refugee integration, benefiting around 565 people to date

Bassel Alsheekh Kassem, 29, fled Syria almost a year ago and now lives with fellow web developer Melanie Thewlis and her partner Paul Zubrinich in trendy Kreuzberg.

“We spend our time talking about our cultures and our value systems; we compare them, discuss them and sometimes criticise them,” Kassem said. “In Syria before the war, my life was perfect – financially and socially. Moving to Paul and Mel’s apartment gave me the feeling of having a normal life again.”

Zubrinich explained that they felt compelled to open up their house after hearing that the city would be hosting thousands of refugees, and that they have all benefited as a result. “I’ve learned a lot about Syrian cuisine and culture, for example; their food is awesome and they have a rich history,” he said. “It’s been intense observing the demonisation of refugees in the media and contrasting it with the friendly, gentle man I live with.”

The website, Flüchtlinge Willkommen (Refugees Welcome), was set up by Mareike Geiling, her partner Jonas Kakoschke and friend Golde Ebding. The trio was inundated with expressions of interest after raising funds to host Bakary Conan, a Malian asylum seeker, in their shared house. They have since developed the concept to house refugees across Europe and Canada.

Photo: Refugees Welcome founders Mareike Geiling and Jonas Kakoschke in their Berlin home with Malian refugee Bakary Conan. Credit: Lars van den Brink

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