Open any newspaper or watch any news program and you will inevitably be bombarded by stories about immigration. You will hear about how the presidential candidates feel. You will hear about detainments and crime rates. You will hear about illegal statuses. But, what you might not hear a lot about is compassion. Amr Arafa, a thirty-four year old immigrant from Egypt recently launched EmergencyBNB, a home rental website aimed at providing a place to stay for refugees and domestic violence victims free of charge. His website is similar to the popular Airbnb website, but no money is exchanged in the process.
Arafa is an immigrant success story. He came to the US in 2005 on a student visa and for the better part of the next decade stayed in the US on other student and temporary work visas. In 2015, he secured a green card and lives in the Washington DC area. Arafa said that his desire to help “started when I got this green card. I got this incredible dosage of stability.” Indeed, he was able to visit his home country for the first time in eight years and came home with a new mission. He started by putting his own apartment on Airbnb at the cheapest rate ($10), stated that the space was available to refugees and domestic violence victims, and then he refunded the fees paid. However, this plan proved to be too difficult as many people contacted Arafa simply for a free place to stay. While he does not have a proper vetting system, Arafa does speak with guests before their stay is confirmed and requests government documentation as proof of refugee status.
Currently, there are over three million refugees in the United States, with over 63,000 entering the US since October 2015 and not all of them have safe, stable places to stay while their refugee petitions are being adjudicated. Moreover, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, approximately twenty people per minute are victims of domestic violence and oftentimes there is no safe escape. Indeed, Alysha Tagert, a social services program coordinator for the Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition, told The Washington Post that it is difficult to find housing, particularly in the Washington DC area, for the victims her organization encounters. By opening his own home, and new website, Arafa hopes to spread the word that everyday people can make a difference.