World

Meet Amr Arafa, the man who provides free shelter to refugees

In a world that is inimical to Islam right from its inception and where people are ‘trumping’ the card of propaganda to wonderfully paint migrants as members of a death cult bent on world domination, people like Amr Arafa stand out.

This 34-year-old from Egypt does not care about the ‘islamophobic’ sentiments and rhetoric spread against immigrants and Muslims in lieu of the 2016 elections. He believes that it is more than just a political crisis and needs the intervention of common people. Not just the lawmakers but the onus of making vulnerable newcomers to the country feel at home is on everyday people.

Since the past one year, Arfa has opened his studio apartment in Washington’s Foggy Bottom neighborhood to refugees and domestic violence victims free of charge, and he has also created a website to help Americans across the country do the same. NamedEmergencyBnB, the concept behind this site was taken from Airbnb, where people list their homes or a bedroom for travelers to rent by the night. But on a humane side EmergencyBnB, takes no money and is often a last resort for people with no money and shelter.

Even though the website is still in its developing stage and he is working to create a stable chain of hosts, he is positive about his initiative.  “EmergencyBnB is not about the government giving you a place to stay,” Arafa said. “It’s about the fact that your neighbors care about you.”

He moved to the United States in 2005 for graduate school and has spent much of the past 11 years on temporary education and work visas that must be renewed annually. He secured a green card in 2015 and for the first time in eight years was able to visit his mother in Egypt. It was then when he realized the comforts and security of having a green card and that is when he decided to help those in need. Another incident that changed his perspective was the viral 2015 video of a Hungarian woman tripping a Syrian refu­gee holding his child while running from police. The video resonated with Arafa, and, with his green card in hand, he decided it was time to help.

“It started when I got this green card. I got this incredible dosage of stability. That card allowed me to see my mother for the first time in eight years,” Arafa said. “That one month home in Egypt, I came back with this new positive energy. I just wanted to help people get this sense of stability.”

Arafa first listed his apartment on Airbnb in November for the cheapest possible amount of $10 and noted that only refugees and domestic violence victims could stay. (He later refunds the $10.)

After which he allowed a Syrian couple and a woman who had responded to his Airbnb posting said she needed to get away from an abusive roommate. Arafa asked her for a copy of a police report and handed her his apartment keys. When he has a guest, he either books a hotel for himself, stays with friends or is traveling.

After resalising that perhaps Arafa wasn’t an effective platform for his mission as Airbnb took him for rejecting too many people who wanted to stay for free. He created a website using his computer science background.

He still posts his apartment on Airbnb, but he is getting more hosts to sign up on EmergencyBnB each week. He’s asked friends around the country to list their homes and has attracted other hosts through publicity of his mission.

“I’m always interested in getting to know other people and cultures, and having people come into your home seems like a great opportunity to do that,” said Steve Graybill, who listed a spare bedroom in his Silver Spring home. Graybill and his wife read about Arafa’s project in Street Sense, a D.C. newspaper largely written by homeless and previously homeless people. “It’s a scary thing to open your home to a stranger. It’s OK to be afraid, but we shouldn’t let those fears control us.”

He does not yet have a system to verify the authenticity of his guests claims and he talks to each guest before he allows them to stay and asks for government documentation to verify their stories.

According to the Pew Research Center, more than 63,000 refugees have entered the United States since Oct. 1, 2015and “The real challenge, according to Arafa, will be to find people willing to open their homes, for me it completely changes my mood, knowing that I am capable of giving. It’s a value add,” he said. “I’m not attempting to resolve the refu­gee crisis, but I know that there are refugees here today and you have to make them feel welcome here.”

 

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