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To honour the 100th anniversary of their founder, Nelson Mandela, The Elders chose to celebrate grassroots leaders working for the freedoms Madiba dedicated his life; peace, health, justice and equality. This organisation, or ‘Spark of Hope’, is one of 100 organisations each representing a unique idea for a freer, fairer world the Elders want to see.

 

The number of people seeking protection in Europe has grown considerably in recent years. During 2015, over a million refugees and migrants reached Europe, most fleeing conflict and persecution. Over the following two years, hundreds of thousands more made the perilous journey across the Mediterranean, arriving predominantly in Greece, Italy or Spain. Asylum systems and reception facilities in many European countries proved unable to cope with the scale and fluidity of this increased movement. Faced with domestic pressure, instead of welcoming those seeking protection, numerous countries imposed tighter legal and physical restrictions on access to their territory.

 

However, despite this toxic sentiment, many people within Europe remain committed to welcoming refugees and providing assistance to new arrivals in their countries. They decry the lack of resettlement places offered by their governments and the failure to provide adequate resources and appropriate housing to them when they arrive. Citizens themselves have decided to take action to fill the gap and make refugees welcome.

 

Refugees Welcome (Flüchtlinge Willkommen) was started in Germany by a young couple with the desire to offer a warm welcome to arriving refugees, rather than exclusion and segregation. Refugees Welcome is a website that matches people with a spare room, with refugees looking for a place to live. There are now Refugees Welcome groups offering this matching service in 16 countries across Europe and beyond.

 

Vincent, Mona and Alex offered their spare room in Berlin through Refugees Welcome and were matched with 24-year-old law student Mohamed from Syria. Mona explained how they came to the decision: “This was a very easy way to help, but we felt we needed to do something.” Mohamed was initially nervous, “In the beginning I was a little scared. What people do, what their culture is like. But then, a week or so later, we had already become friends.” The flatmates explain that they have received lots of cooking tips and good food from their Syrian flatmate. Alex said, “What makes it so special is the cultural exchange and that you learn about another culture.”

 

By helping new arrivals find flatshares, Refugees Welcome offers refugees a chance to rebuild normal everyday life, smoothing the path of integration into a new country, culture and language. It also provides a platform for people in refugee hosting countries, appalled by the anti-refugee sentiment from their politicians, peers and the media, to stand up and say that refugees are welcome in their country and in their homes. This simple idea has resonated so well with communities in hosting countries around the world and has been so successful in matching refugees with flatmates, that it has already expanded worldwide. There are now Refugees Welcome groups in Poland, Canada, Australia, Italy and beyond, matching over a thousand people to date. 

 

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