We are inundated with headlines, videos, photos and stories detailing the current refugee crisis. While a daunting and seemingly insurmountable issue for global leaders, people around the world have taken the politics out of the situation and work to provide solutions of their own. Below, we showcase current initiatives in three European countries.
France: Banksy’s Avant-Garde Idea
In the UK, famed avant-garde and anonymous artist Banksy’s ‘most depressing theme park in Britain’ has been a sold-out tourist attraction since it was first erected in August of this year. The artist has decided to dismantle the ‘bemusement’ park and send all timber and fixtures to Calais to be used to build shelters and cooking stations for the estimated 5,000 people from Syria, Libya, and Eritrea currently camped on the outskirts of the city.
The project is spearheaded by NGO Aid Box Convoy, who will also be taking 5 tonnes of donated firewood and over 300 aid boxes containing food, toiletries and cooking equipment. The Dismaland team is also sending a team of builders to the camp who will assist in shelter creation.
Germany: Refugees Welcome
In Germany, over 200,000 refugees have applied for asylum. Innovators Mareike Geiling and Jonas Kakosche created Refugees Welcome, an online service that matches refugees with willing hosts. It is modeled after the popular Air B&B and Couchsurfing systems. Traditional refugee camps or settlements are often on the periphery of the host city. Physically kept apart from the host population, their attempt to integrate is made more difficult.
Refugees Welcome works with independent refugee agencies, who act as a third party in matching refugees with potential hosts. Hosts are responsible for all living expenses incurred by their guest; however, they are encouraged to seek financing through micro donations and crowdfunding on the website. The guest and host are matched and meet prior to agreeing to the arrangement. The key is for the refugee to feel safe and the host must agree to house the guest for a minimum of three months, to allow the guest to make plans for the future.
The initiative has helped to settle over 200 refugees so far and has gained in popularity with similar services popping up in nearby Austria, Spain, Portugal, Greece and Canada. The project is also piggy-backing onto the German Federal state support programs to finance refugees’ new residences when they become stable enough to move out of shared accommodations.
The Magdas Hotel, Austria
The Magdas Hotel in Austria has taken the idea of integrating refugees into the community one step further. With a €1.6 million loan from global charity Caritas and €60,000 raised through crowdfunding, the former retirement home has been transformed into an affordable hotel primarily staffed by former asylum seekers from around the globe. The hotel was opened with the intention of only hiring refugees for the purpose of offering them employment and training. At €80/night, the hotel is priced well below the industry average (€250) to entice visitors to experience the hotel and fund a worthwhile cause.
Currently in Austria, asylum seekers are unable to work until their application is processed, which can take upwards of 10 years in some cases. The hotel is seeking to bridge that gap by affording refugees the opportunity to earn a living wage (equal to industry standards), become comfortable and familiar with their surroundings, and learn the language while waiting for their applications to be processed. According to Martin Gantner of Caritas, “It’s pointless for society that these people remain unemployed for so long; they often have many untapped skills.” The hotel is also a sanctuary for refugee youth; 25 refugee claimants under the age of 18 currently live there. Like Refugees Welcome, this model has also piqued the interest of international entrepreneurs, with similar projects 0being considered in Berlin and Amsterdam.
These innovative solutions, while perhaps not grand in scale, provide a great opportunity for the displaced to build a new life alongside their hosts, rather than apart from them. Perhaps more importantly, they humanize the crisis by giving those living in host countries an opportunity to interact face to face, and to learn about their lives, their experiences, and their capabilities.