British Columbia

We Host website aims to provide Airbnb for Syrian refugees

A new Airbnb-style website has come up with a unique solution to help Syrian refugees find a place to live.

500 Canadians have offered space in their homes for refugees through We Host

Syrian refugees have begun arriving in Canada and many more are expected. (Mathieu Dion/Radio-Canada)

A new Airbnb-style website has come up with a novel solution to help find Syrian refugees a place to live.

About 500 households from across Canada have registered on to offer spare rooms or vacant suites for Syrian refugees since it was set up three weeks ago by a team of six in Montreal.

"It's not meant to become a permanent replacement for housing. It's really meant to address the short-term housing crisis as refugees are arriving now in very large numbers," said Vancouver resident, Faten Salem, who signed up on We Host to set an example for her children.

She says she wants them to understand how fortunate they are to have a home.

"It's an honour to have someone in our house."

Airbnb for refugees

We Host is a non profit organization modeled after Airbnb, where people can advertise their homes for short-term stays. The Montreal team behind the website started the project in September, motivated by the ongoing refugee crisis and war in Syria.

"I just felt like it was unbearable to watch this and be aware that this was happening and yet feel powerless," said Jenviev Azzolin, co-founder and president of We Host.

A Syrian refugee boy stands in front of his family's tent in Al Zaatari refugee camp, in the Jordanian city of Mafraq, near the border with Syria. (Muhammad Hamed/Reuters)

She says the response so far has been "huge," with the team fielding thousands of emails and calls.

In less than a month, We Host and its 60 volunteers have found spaces for around 1,500 refugees. Anyone with a spare room in their house can sign up.

Azzolin says the team's ultimate goal is to give refugees the chance to integrate into their new community as quickly as possible.

"We would like them to have the option, rather than staying in a [military] base, to be able to use We Host and be integrated directly into a Canadian household in the city or municipality they're hoping to re-settle into."

Giving back

We Host has not re-homed any refugees yet because, so far, the refugees that have arrived are privately sponsored by families who already have space for them, said Azzolin.

But for those registered on We Host, it's just a matter of waiting because the Canadian government has committed to welcoming 25, 000 Syrian refugees in the coming months.

Salem's is one of those households, waiting to welcome a refugee family. She says she can relate to their experience because she made the trip herself 12 years ago from Egypt.

"They've been through a lot of things and yet they feel so happy and fortunate just to come here," she said.

"For me coming here to Canada 12 year ago, I know it's not easy to leave things behind, no matter what bad situation they've been in. So I feel like these people need a lot of help, not just hosting them in our house or giving them money but they need a lot of support."

We Host is in talks with local, provincial, and federal governments to determine how it can best coordinate the short-term re-homing of refugees, according to Azzolin.

With files from Brenna Rose and Mike Laanela


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