How Airbnb’s nonprofit is making refugee resettlement a core mission – Orange County Register
By Glenn Gamboa | The Associated Press
Mousa and Rasha Alkhafaji were already anxious when they emigrated from Iraq to the United States in 2017.
Even though Mousa Alkhafaji was ultimately given a special immigrant visa for his work with the US military in Iraq, his family’s initial flight was canceled when the Trump administration ordered travel from Iraq to be banned. Rather than wait for the ban to be lifted, the Alkhafajis have decided to risk a large chunk of their savings to book another flight and hope for the best.
Whatever welcome they received in the United States, they believed, would lead to a better life for them and their two young sons.
After two days of flights – from Baghdad in Qatar to Boston to Denver, their unknown new hometown – the tired Alkhafajis arrived outside their first American home, a modest gray brick ranch.
“I can’t forget this photo,” Mousa Alkhafaji said. “It was around 10 pm, and there was a nice lady standing in front of the house on the porch with a man, and they were both smiling at us. They greeted us and gave me a hug.
That embrace came from Susan and Steve Bailey, Airbnb hosts who, like tens of thousands of others, have agreed to house refugees as part of the Online Accommodation Marketplace’s philanthropic program to provide housing. temporary emergency to the needy. It’s a program now seen as a model for those working with refugee resettlement and a core mission of Airbnb.org, Airbnb’s non-profit program, which marks its first anniversary on Tuesday.
“I think we’ve proven that the Airbnb model is extremely effective in hosting people for vacation and business travel,” said Joe Gebbia, Airbnb co-founder and president of Airbnb.org. “It also happens to be phenomenally successful in housing people when they need shelter most, when they are in times of crisis. “
What the Baileys have done for the Alkhafajis, says Gebbia, builds on what they’ve learned as successful Airbnb hosts and could apply to people who need quick help and support. safe place to stay.
In its first year, Airbnb.org helped provide housing for more than 100,000 first responders during the pandemic to help them avoid spreading COVID-19 to their families. In recent months, the association has worked to resettle 7,600 Afghan refugees after the Taliban took control of the country and has pledged to resettle 12,500 more.
Jennifer Bond, Founder of the University of Ottawa Refugee Center, Chair of the Global Refugee Sponsorship Initiative, and Airbnb.org Board Member, said Airbnb “has really taught the world. world of new ways of thinking about accommodation ”and applied this knowledge. how Airbnb.org. Airbnb’s philanthropy began in 2012, when a host from Brooklyn suggested the company temporarily house people displaced by Hurricane Sandy. This continued for years, including Hurricane Harvey in 2017, before expanding its reach.
Airbnb.org is now helping refugee aid organizations refine the resettlement sponsorship model, first used after the Vietnam War, when American communities joined together to welcome Vietnamese refugees to their areas.
Susan Bailey’s involvement in refugee resettlement began with a phone call from Airbnb in 2017. It was the year the United Nations said the number of people forcibly displaced from their country reached 68, 5 millions. The main reasons were the conflict in Syria and the new crises in Sudan, Myanmar and Yemen. Airbnb was helping resettlement agencies place refugees in short-term housing until they could find permanent housing.
The company needed a place in Denver for a single refugee from Yemen and asked Bailey, who owns several Airbnb properties in the area, if she could help.
“It kicked off our trip,” Bailey said.
The Baileys quickly met Zak Awadh, a Yemeni student who had planned to study fashion design in Switzerland. But when war broke out in Yemen, his visa was revoked and he was unable to return home.
“I was just stuck there,” Awadh, now 28, said. “I did not know what to do.”
With the help of a human rights agency helping LGBTQ people, he ended up in the United States. But Awadh said his arrival was overwhelming. “I was so scared,” he said, “and I felt lonely. The first four days were miserable.
Then he was made to stay with the Baileys, who threw him a welcome party during which he met their neighbors and friends. Over time, they created a support system to help him navigate American life.
“It really helped me a lot,” said Awadh, who ended up staying with friends of the Bailey’s for about a year. They helped him enroll at the University of Colorado at Denver and find additional jobs. When Awadh recently graduated with a business administration degree, the Baileys attended the ceremony.
They are still a part of each other’s lives as Awadh begins her career in marketing, hoping to pursue her interests in fashion design and music production in parallel.
Meeting Awadh, said Bailey, changed her life. Since her arrival, the Baileys have hosted six other refugee families, including the Alkhafaji. A seventh group – a family of 10 from Afghanistan – arrived earlier this month.
“I would like to think that we were tolerant and very tolerant people,” she said. “But we are forever enriched to have known all these people.”
Bailey thanks Airbnb and the International Rescue Committee for facilitating the accommodation process for the refugees by giving them access to social workers and translators.
“She rallied her community in Denver – to provide laptops for kids, to take them to job interviews, to help kids get into local schools,” said Airbnb’s Gebbia. “I think it was invaluable to them.
Lauren Gray, senior director of global corporate partnerships for the International Rescue Committee, said Airbnb partnered with the group in 2017, which led to a broader partnership – a four-year commitment of $ 4 million. dollars in cash and housing loans.
This year’s crisis in Afghanistan received an even bigger response from Airbnb.org, whose creation as a nonprofit was seeded with 400,000 Airbnb shares and donations from its founders.
“Airbnb has committed an incredible amount – they have committed to house 20,000 Afghans – it was truly unprecedented,” Gray said. “It really helped that they were in the foreground and very vocal and visible about this engagement early on.”
The experience of the Alkhafajis provides an example of what this partnership can accomplish.
Mousa Alkhafaji now works for the International Rescue Committee and advises refugees on financial matters. Rasha Alkhafaji is the director of a day care center that teaches refugee children. Their sons, Jay and Ali, are doing well in school and recently welcomed two dogs, Ganosh and Hero, into the family.
“Just recently they bought their own house,” Gebbia said. “They are following the American dream, you might say.”
While their initial arrival in America was a high-risk struggle, the Alkhafajis are thrilled with the outcome.
“We have a great belief in God and also in karma,” Mousa Alkhafaji said. “So if you are doing something right with your life, you will meet the right people in your life to help you. “
“It changed my life,” said Rasha Alkhafaji. “It has made all the difference in our life now. And we have friends who have become like family.
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