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What It's Like To Welcome a Refugee Into Your Own Home

By Yosola Olorunshola|

Aubrey Wade / UNHCR

After the photo of a drowned Syrian toddler washed up on a beach shocked the world, a wave of compassion and outrage swept across the global community. But one year on from this harrowing image, how much has changed? 

Sadly, not much. 

More than 11 million Syrians have been forced to flee their homes and 5,700 refugees have died trying to reach safety since Alan Kurdi’s tragic death. Currently, there are 65.3 million displaced people in the world. And yet, the response — particularly from wealthy countries — has been weak. Xenophobia, fears about national security and pressure on resources mean many countries treat asylum seekers with suspicion, rather than compassion. 

Read More: Refugees Jump To Help After Italy's Earthquake

However, stories of individuals welcoming refugees into their homes offer a glimmer of hope.

"‘No Stranger Place,’" a series of stories created by photographer Aubrey Wade and writer/ producer Nadine Alfa in collaboration with UNHCR, documents the relationship between locals and the refugees they have welcomed into their homes. The stories revealed by the portraits are intimate and powerful — they are a reminder of “what is possible when people choose to respond out of trust, instead of fear.” 

Tracing unexpected combinations of cultures and lifestyles, the stories highlight the power of welcoming a stranger into your own home. 

swedenrefugees.jpgImage: Aubrey Wade / UNHCR

Like Alqumit Alhamad and Linnea Tell, met through a Swedish organization that pairs refugees with local hosts. They are an unlikely pair: Alqumit is "flamboyant," gay, and Muslim, and fled Syria after some of his friends were tortured by IS militants and homosexuals were thrown off buildings in his hometown. Linnea is described as a quiet single mother, training to be a librarian. Despite these superficial differences, Linnea says, "I instantly knew this would work because it was so easy to talk to him."

WilhelmandInas.jpgImage: Aubrey Wade / UNHCR

Then there's Inas, whose life changed when he bumped into a friendly German couple just four days after he arrived in Germany. Unexpected cultural differences emerged when Inas saw them playing with their dog. "Inas was visibly shocked," says Wilhelm, one of the pair who took Inas into their home. "Imagine you go somewhere and someone cuddles with a rat, it would be disgusting!" Soon, Inas warmed to their pet and has been living with the couple since November 2015. "It feels like real family life!" says Wilhelm. 

Jellinek.jpgImage: Aubrey Wade / UNHCR

The story of  the Jellineks shows that integration is a collaborative effort. A Jewish family living in Berlin who opened their home to a Muslim refugee, they work to combine both cultural heritages in their home.

“Integration is not one-sided work,” says Chaim Jellinek. “Integration is not something that we should only ask from people coming into our country. We should ask this of ourselves, too.” 

Read More: US Is Resettling 10,000th Syrian Refugee

This week also marks one year from German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s famed “open-door” policy. Asserting “we can handle this,” she opened Germany’s borders to an unprecedented number of refugees. By the end of 2015,  more than 1 million refugees had arrived in Germany.  The approach won Merkel international admiration, but has become a source of increasing tension within German society. Riding on concerns about the number of refugees who have arrived in Germany as well as anti-foreigner sentiment, the right-wing populist party, Alternative fuer Deustchland, is gaining ground. Its leader is notorious for stating that police should shoot refugees trying to enter Germany illegally. In the most recent regional election, the AfD caused a stir by winning a greater share of the vote than Merkel’s party — a defeat largely seen as a direct consequence of the open-door policy. 

Read More: How Far Will Anti-Refugee Rhetoric Spread In Europe? 

Extremists voices are becoming more vocal across Western democracies. However, in the face of rising xenophobia, individuals like Linnea and Alqumit, Wilhelm and Inas, or the Jellinek family show that integration is possible. Their lives are proof that we can make refugees welcome.  

As politicians call for walls to be built and turn a blind eye to the continued refugee crisis, these stories are a reminder of the common humanity that transcends cultures and borders.

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