Take empathy to a new level by living just like a displaced person. A group of Syrian refugees advertised their camp tent as a rentable destination on Airbnb, offering intrepid travelers “scorpions, dehydration and broken promises”. They describe the Ritsona, Greece refugee camp, about 80 kilometers north of Athens, as “the most unique neighborhood in Greece”.
Airbnb proved a brilliant platform for protesting their wretched living conditions. In their ad – which the rental company has since removed from the website – the anonymous posters said they have lived for three months in a small tent. “This is a real opportunity to experience life as a Syrian refugee,” they posted. “While EU politicians talk about refugees, you can have an authentic refugee experience – tents, wood-fire cooking, 41 degree heat, marginal sanitary situation, friendly scorpions, broken promises, even dehydration.”
As do many other Airbnb property owners, the refugees teased prospective renters with ironic special deals, including “free parking”, access to portable toilets (shared by 600 others), and “rarely available” medical care and schooling. “If you are lucky you might get one of the two hot showers. There is a large vacant lot where the toilets are, which the children use as a playground. Please join in the games.”
Millions of people around the world use the in San Francisco-based service to find shared accommodation. Despite a company credo that states, “Whether an apartment for a night, a castle for a week, or a villa for a month, Airbnb connects people to unique travel experiences, at any price point, in more than 34,000 cities and 191 countries”, Airbnb issued a statement saying it had removed the listing because it was “not permitted under our terms of service”.
It said that it understood the listing intended to highlight the plight of refugees living in camps which have been criticized by international aid groups and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). A company spokesperson noted that Airbnb has raised “hundreds of thousands of dollars” for UNHCR.
Last year, a constant flotilla of small boats and inflatables carried more than 800,000 refugees and migrants, primarily from Syria and Iraq, from Turkey to Greece. When the so-called “Balkan Route” leading from Greece to northern Europe closed in March, over 50,000 people became stranded in Greece, left to fend the elements in makeshift camps in deplorable conditions.
In the past month, refugees moved into registered camps created by the Greek authorities and the military, but aid agencies and the UNHCR have reported the camps as being unhygienic and inappropriate for long-term accommodation. The International Rescue Committee and Doctors Without Borders warned that the new camp was not ready to host the number of refugees being placed there, now numbering over 600 people.
Maybe these anonymous refugees will now turn to EatWith, and offer “authentic dining experiences” inclusive of UNHCR rations and tainted water. Can UBER be far behind?
Kudos to these survivors, who despite miserable circumstances and a bleak future, persevere in trying to get the rest of the world to wake up and take action.