Above the entrance of the Magdas Hotel hangs a sign which recites “dismantle prejudices”, a simple phrase that reflects the spirit of this extraordinary project. “Our intent is also political – has explained Martin Gantner, press officer of the Viennese Caritas – we want to show that those who find themselves legally in Austria should be able also to work legally”.
Their faces are a mosaic of different civilizations; they speak English, Spanish, German, Portuguese, French, and Arabic. Their uniforms conceal the stories of 20 refugees who, unlike many of their fellow countrymen, have had a better chance. Fourteen different cultures and one single goal: take become masters of their own lives again.
This is the challenge of the Viennese Caritas Company which controls social activities. It has been able to bet on a project that in the eyes of many others was “impossible”: a hotel for tourists and a home for refugees, everything under the same roof. Here, 80% of the employees are people who flee from war or persecution: many of them already have experience in the hospitality industry, others are young people who are learning a profession.
Everything has started from the intuition to refurbish an old retirement home in disuse and transform it into a hotel where to try a trend reversal: those who were once asylum seekers in search of hospitality, today are those who offer it. A strategic change in thought, a slap in the face of all those who are convinced that immigrants should return to their countries without an opportunity to get instruction, a job, and a decent life. The Magdas Hotel was born due to an important operation of crowdfunding, that has allowed to collect the 70 thousand euros needed to start the initiative and to offer jobs to those who perhaps would not have never found one. The structure is furnished with style and is enriched with works of the students at the Academy of Fine Arts, a modern and welcoming environment just a few steps away from the Danube. In the neighbourhood, however, not everyone is excited about this project and the refugees’ hotel has 5 years to prove its potential.
“It is of no use for society to keep those people unemployed for a long time – reiterates the Caritas’ spokesman – often they have many abilities, that have not been exploited yet. We are trying to offer solutions. Through Magdas, people learn different ways to relate to migrants”. A true revolution that wants to shake the consciences of many people, especially in the rest of Europe where refugees emergency is growing more and more.
A different, but equally challenging case, is the one that for nine months now has been allowing families from Germany and Austria to host migrants in their homes. It is called Refuge Welcome, and is a project designed by a group of young people who want to show the best side of the German people.
Up till now, 107 houses have opened their doors to refugees coming from countries with more difficulties such as Afghanistan, Algeria, Bangladesh, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Iraq, and many others. This type of hospitality in Berlin and Vienna is not officially supported by the institutions, but in some autonomous German regions local governments provide a form of subsidy for those who host a refugee at home. “The donations – explains one of the founders of the site, Mareike Geiling – fall within the parameters of Hartz IV, the welfare system for unemployed Germans. As a rent supplement, they provide a contribution of approximately 300 euros per month. Otherwise Flüchtlinge Willkommen helps those who host through crowdfunding campaigns or small donations”.
Hosting at home has become an object of debate since Martin Parzelt, a member of the CDU, against the will of the rest of the party, has hosted in his home two Eritreans of 24 and 19 years, openly declaring that he was receiving economic aid from the Brandenburg lander. If, on the one hand, the spread of this way of thinking is dividing public opinion, on the other hand, it is a fact that many families have declared their willingness to host and are waiting to find someone who is looking for a place to stay in their city.
Translated by Ecaterina Severin