Over fifty students from all over Europe have joined a Rotterdam initiative which involves sharing their rooms with refugees their age. The initiative was an idea by students’ start-up HousingAnywhere, a Rotterdam company which established ShelterAnywhere.org.

A sign-up form can be found on the company’s website. On the form, students can indicate what kind of space they are offering. It can be any kind of space, says Oskar Štrajn, who is one of the driving forces behind the project. ‘Whether it’s a small room or a sofa, we’re happy with anything we can get.’

HousingAnywhere is an Airbnb-like website which allows students to sublet their rooms when they are going abroad for a longer period of time. The company was founded by Niels van Deuren, a Rotterdam local. HousingAnywhere operates worldwide.

It hooks up students with other students, which is exactly what they are trying to achieve with their latest project. The only twist is that this time round, students won’t be leaving their rooms, but rather will share them with their new lodgers.

Once one hundred students have signed up, HousingAnywhere will contact professional aid agencies in these students’ countries, who will ‘provide’ the students with refugees. The idea is to match students to refugees their own age. It is up to the students to decide how long they wish to host a refugee.

‘Leave it to professionals’

In the past, the Dutch Council for Refugees, Vluchtelingenwerk Nederland, has indicated on several occasions that it is not very appreciative of this kind of initiative. The Council is of the opinion that refugee relief should be left to professional aid workers, since many refugees are quite traumatised. ShelterAnywhere intends to prepare participating students with a briefing. ‘We don’t want them to rush into anything.’

So far, students from the Netherlands, Germany, Spain, Italy and Slovenia have signed up. ‘A few’ Rotterdam students are said to have signed up as well.