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REFUGEE CRISIS

IMMIGRATION

‘Airbnb for refugees’ comes to Paris

A pro-refugee organization in Paris has launched a new project that will allow French locals to open up their homes to refugees. And Parisians appear to be taking to it.

'Airbnb for refugees' comes to Paris
A man in Paris looks for a place to sleep after being evicted from a camp in central Paris. Photo: AFP
It can be hard enough for Parisians themselves to find a place to live the French capital.
 
But imagine how tough it would be for someone who's just been granted refugee status, can't speak French, and hasn't got their own network to help.
 
This is a problem that's being tackled by Singa, an organization which has spent the past two years helping refugees adapt to life in France.
 
The group has recently created a new “room-finding” programme called Calm (Comme a la maison), in the hopes of connecting refugees with volunteers who have space in their homes.
 
With the issue of refugees the hottest political issue of the moment, organizers have said that it's about time something was done to address the issue.
 
“Today there is a real awakening of civil society on this issue,” co-founder Nathanaël Molle said. “We can't just stand by anymore.”
 
Since launching a few days ago, around 200 people have already registered their interest in housing a refugee, the group's co-founder Molle told the AFP news agency.
 
It's inspired by a similar scheme that was set up in Berlin under the title Refugees Welcome and was dubbed “Airbnb for refugees” after the popular holiday home-sharing site.
 
The website of the new French version asks: Do you have a spare room in your apartment? Then host a refugee!
 
“We have all kinds of families among those registered: farmers, bankers, people who live in the countryside, others in towns,” added Alice Barbe, another co-founder.
 
Barbe said that the move would allow refugees “to understand the society they are in, to meet French people, and to be able to relax during a period of stress and anxiety”.
 
(Do you have a spare room in your apartment? Then host a refugee!)
 
So how does it all work?
 
Refugees can submit a form online that asks for some basic details, as well as where they'd like to live.
 
Volunteers can fill out another form detailing their available room, the home it is inside, and the area they live in, and even information about their hobbies. 
 
Singa then correlates the information to find suitable matches – and have said that the first housing will take place within the next two weeks.
 
And similarly to Airbnb, the homeowners are in charge of how long their guest can stay, which can be anything from a month to one year. The organization notes that the contract can be cut short if things don't work out.
 
 
 

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POLITICS

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area

European countries agreed on Thursday to push towards a long-stalled reform of the bloc's migration system, urging tighter control of external borders and better burden-sharing when it comes to asylum-seekers.

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area
European interior ministers met in the northern French city of tourcoing, where president Emmanuel Macron gave a speech. Photo: Yoat Valat/AFP

The EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson, speaking after a meeting of European interior ministers, said she welcomed what she saw as new momentum on the issue.

In a reflection of the deep-rooted divisions on the issue, France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin – whose country holds the rotating EU presidency – said the process would be “gradual”, and welcomed what he said was unanimous backing.

EU countries backed a proposal from French President Emmanuel Macron to create a council guiding policy in the Schengen area, the passport-free zone used by most EU countries and some affiliated nations such as Switzerland and Norway.

Schengen council

Speaking before the meeting, Macron said the “Schengen Council” would evaluate how the area was working but would also take joint decisions and facilitate coordination in times of crisis.

“This council can become the face of a strong, protective Europe that is comfortable with controlling its borders and therefore its destiny,” he said.

The first meeting is scheduled to take place on March 3rd in Brussels.

A statement released after the meeting said: “On this occasion, they will establish a set of indicators allowing for real time evaluation of the situation at our borders, and, with an aim to be able to respond to any difficulty, will continue their discussions on implementing new tools for solidarity at the external borders.”

Step by step

The statement also confirmed EU countries agreed to take a step-by-step approach on plans for reforming the EU’s asylum rules.

“The ministers also discussed the issues of asylum and immigration,” it read.

“They expressed their support for the phased approach, step by step, put forward by the French Presidency to make headway on these complex negotiations.

“On this basis, the Council will work over the coming weeks to define a first step of the reform of the European immigration and asylum system, which will fully respect the balance between the requirements of responsibility and solidarity.”

A planned overhaul of EU migration policy has so far foundered on the refusal of countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia to accept a sharing out of asylum-seekers across the bloc.

That forces countries on the EU’s outer southern rim – Italy, Greece, Malta and Spain – to take responsibility for handling irregular migrants, many of whom are intent on making their way to Europe’s wealthier northern nations.

France is pushing for member states to commit to reinforcing the EU’s external borders by recording the details of every foreign arrival and improving vetting procedures.

It also wants recalcitrant EU countries to financially help out the ones on the frontline of migration flows if they do not take in asylum-seekers themselves.

Johansson was critical of the fact that, last year, “45,000 irregular arrivals” were not entered into the common Eurodac database containing the fingerprints of migrants and asylum-seekers.

Earlier, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser suggested her country, France and others could form a “coalition of the willing” to take in asylum-seekers even if no bloc-wide agreement was struck to share them across member states.

She noted that Macron spoke of a dozen countries in that grouping, but added that was probably “very optimistic”.

Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, hailed what he said was “a less negative atmosphere” in Thursday’s meeting compared to previous talks.

But he cautioned that “we cannot let a few countries do their EU duty… while others look away”.

France is now working on reconciling positions with the aim of presenting propositions at a March 3rd meeting on European affairs.

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