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Syrian Refugees List Their Campsite on Airbnb

In an effort to draw attention to their plight, refugees offer a stay in the “most unique neighborhood in Greece.”

Children at a Syrian refugee camp in Kurdistan. (Photo: Mustafa Khayat/CC BY-ND-2.0)

According to the Telegraph, a group of Syrian refugees is using a very unusual platform for protest: Airbnb.

The anonymous posters sought to draw attention to their living conditions in a Greek refugee camp by writing a satirical listing for their tent. The “property”—which has already been removed by the company—takes a wry approach to detailing the conditions the Syrians have lived in for the past four months.

“This is a real opportunity to experience life as a Syrian refugee. While EU politicians talk about refugees, you can have an authentic refugee experience – tents, wood-fire cooking, 41 degree [105.8º F] heat, marginal sanitary situation, friendly scorpions, broken promises, even dehydration,” the advertisement sarcastically boasts.

The listing posits itself as an opportunity to stay in the “most unique neighborhood in Greece,” highlighting “amenities” such as portable toilets used by over 600 people daily, two hot showers, and “rarely available” medical care and schooling.

While it’s unclear exactly who posted the ironic ad, it was clearly intended to highlight the plight of refugees living in the camps, which have been criticized by international aid groups and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. While the EU has plans to resettle the 160,000 refugees currently stranded in Greece and Italy, only 2,400 people have been relocated to date, with many left to linger in refugee camps for months.

The current camp was established about a month ago, after Greek officials shut down a makeshift camp established by refugees at Idomeni in northern Greece. The Idomeni camp formed after the Greek—Macedonian border was closed, preventing refugees from passing through the Balkans to Northern Europe. Heavy rains worsened conditions at the camp and protesting refugees blocked a nearby rail line, incentivizing the government to relocate the camp.

As soon as relocation began, aid groups began expressing concern about conditions at the new campsite, with representatives from the International Rescue Committee and Doctors Without Borders protesting that the new camp was not ready to host the number of refugees being placed there. Earlier this month, Doctors Without Borders announced it would no longer accept funding from the EU in protest of its migration policies and handling of the refugee crisis.

While European governments slowly struggle to deal with the crisis, some citizens—similarly inspired by Airbnb—have stepped up to help. In 2014, a German group established Refugees Welcome, an “Airbnb for refugees” that pairs refugees seeking housing with individuals willing to provide them with a room in their home. Refugees Welcome explains the options available to make-up the rental cost of the room, from crowdfunding to accessing government-funded support. Currently, more than 5,000 home-shares are registered with the site, in countries such as Portugal, the Netherlands, Canada, Austria, Spain, Poland, Greece, Sweden and Italy.

Similar efforts are underway in the United States; Amr Arafa, who emigrated to the U.S. as a graduate computer science student, is working to launch EmergencyBNB to help refugees and survivors of domestic violence find short-term housing. In an interview with CityLab, Arafa explains that to help publicize his site, he has begun listing his own apartment on Airbnb, charging the minimum fee of $10 per night (which he refunds at check-in) and renting only to individuals in need.

Arafa’s hope, he tells CityLab, is that other Americans will learn about what he’s doing and be inspired to open their own homes to people seeking asylum. It seems likely that whoever was behind the Syrian refugee camp listing would appreciate his efforts.