By Pia Chatterjee
2015 has been a particularly trying year for migrants in Europe, now dealing with its worst refugee crisis since the second world war. The rise of anti-immigration political sentiment continent-wide, exponential rise in pressure on resources and public facilities, as well as the increase in reasons compelling people to migrate or seek refuge in the first place have made it so that migrants now lead very precarious and unstable lives. The most recent debate concerning the acceptance of Syrian refugees into the EU has made newer sparks fly and made this already sensitive subject come to the forefront of everything political, social and economic. There are currently thousands of migrants crossing borders from both within the EU and out of it, be it seeking refuge from political persecution or fleeing extenuating economic circumstances. We can be grateful that there are some social enterprises working tirelessly to accommodate this huge influx of people when all other recourses seem inadequate. Here are 3 in particular that are doing amazing things to help those in need:
- Refugee Hero, The Netherlands: Based in the Netherlands, Refugee Hero is a kind of AirBnB for refugees. It gives regular people all over Europe the opportunity to volunteer to open their homes to refugees for them to have temporary homes while they get back up on their feet. It is the founders Germaine Statia, Jamal Oulel and Ayoub Aouragh themselves who made the comparison with the website that helps people find apartments to rent around the globe, with one crucial difference: Refugee Hero is completely free of cost. Anyone can choose to offer access to their property to be briefly occupied by refugees struggling to find a roof over their heads, including schools, churches, offices and just about any other kind of private property. The site is funded by Dutch municipalities, which isn’t incredibly surprising given that Dutch governmental institutions spent 495 million euros trying to help refugees in 2014 alone. Refugee Hero is hoping to expand its reach to include helping people for all kinds of migration-related problems like applying for social security, citizenship, finding work and enrolling children in schools. Until then, it’s still doing a pretty great job. If you’re looking to make a difference and get involved in helping with the refugee crisis, check out their website and host someone yourself today!
- Dentist Study Buddy, United Kingdom: Based in the UK, the Dentist Study Buddy Programme is a more targeted project managed by the Migrant and Refugee Communities Forum (MRCF) that helps migrant and refugee dentists connect with each other and obtain the requisite verification and permissions to practice dentistry in the UK. Having created an impressive overseas network of doctors, the programme has been in place for about a decade and is the only source of support for these gifted practitioners who are prevented from using their skills due to administrative barriers. The process to have degrees and qualifications verified and validated in the UK can take up to two years. For the first 8 years MRCF received local and national funding, but the steady stream of funds gradually dissipated with the onslaught of the economic crisis. MRCF now charges a 50-pound fee to maintain the programme that still substantially helps over 3,000 dentists, which has only made its members more active since they are now financially invested in the project. If you thought the issue was too remote to have an entire project dedicated to it, you were wrong! If you’re having problems dealing with British bureaucracy, you now know where to look.
- Magdas Hotel, Austria: Magdas Hotel is a recently set up hotel in the stunning Austrian capital of Vienna. Of its currently mere 28 employees, 20 are refugees who have been given work in the hotel serving people from all over the world in the highly touristic city. Given their background, over 21 international languages are spoken here and can cater to just about any nationality. For many of these receptionists, bartenders, housekeepers and other service personnel, working at Magdas is their first job in this kind of service industry. They are supervised and guided by 5 very capable industry professionals and a job coach to ensure that they are able to adapt to this new work environment and provide the best possible quality service. The project was launched by the Austrian organization Caritas which handed the management baton to Dutchman Sebastiaan de Vos, an active and enthusiastic 28-year-old proud of the hotel having already been at full capacity despite how recently it opened. Since it isn’t publicly funded at all, the hotel was obliged to be set up and renovated from what was previously an old-age home with a 1.5 million euro loan from Caritas. 57,000 euros were also able to be gathered through crowdfunding, and business for the 78-room location is flourishing. Aside from providing their guests with a fantastic experience, employees here are also able to share their stories and be more than just meaningless statistics. 20 portraits hang in the lobby of the building to remind people that the awful stories you hear are all very real and that the people in each one of them could easily be someone you know. Magdas’ work is symbolic for the cause, and you should definitely stop by on your next stop to the City of Music.
There are tons of other enterprises bringing people like you and me to be involved at the forefront of the gargantuan immigration issue pressing Europe. While most tend to cater to refugees, the impact is starting to expand to include other migrants who may not be seeking asylum as well. As is often the case, social enterprise serves to do good when there aren’t enough resources for other institutions to do so adequately. We can definitely be grateful to enterprises like these that are using their creativity and good will to ease the tension currently plaguing the continent.