The rental app Airbnb has announced it hopes to house up to 20,000 refugees around the world for free, amid the humanitarian crisis emerging in and around Afghanistan. The accommodation will be organized by the independent charitable entity Airbnb.org.
The scheme encourages current and prospective Airbnb hosts to offer temporary accommodation either for free or at a discounted rate. Costs will be paid for out of funds from the Airbnb.org Refugee Fund, which was established earlier in 2021 and which eventually seeks to raise $25 million for humanitarian purposes, as well as money provided directly by Airbnb.org and Airbnb CEO and co-founder Brian Chesky.
“As tens of thousands of Afghan refugees resettle around the world, where they stay will be the first chapter in their new lives,” said Chesky. “For these 20,000 refugees, my hope is that the Airbnb community will provide them with not only a safe place to rest and start over, but also a warm welcome home.”
A lot of the technical details of how this scheme will work in practice – including how long refugees will be able to stay in the temporary housing – are expected to be announced later in the week. As things stand, it appears much of the housing will be in the U.S., for refugees who have made it out of Afghanistan on the Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs), for instance, which are provided to people who aided U.S. forces in Afghanistan. These refugees won’t book the housing themselves, but rather Airbnb.org and humanitarian organizations will co-ordinate to arrange the accomodation, using the Airbnb platform.
The announcement comes as the crisis in Afghanistan appears to be worsening, with President Biden telling humanitarian agencies to expect up to 50,000 people to flee to the U.S. alone.
Airbnb as a platform allows private hosts to rent out part or all of a property to tenants via the Airbnb app. Typically, conditions in the accomodation are managed both by an in-built complaints process within the app, as well as a rating system which lets other users know the quality of the lodging before they book. Outside the scrutiny of the public market, however, there is concern that refugees could find themselves in substandard, esploitative or dangerous situations, particularly considering the evolving and somewhat hasty nature of the programme.
In response to this concern, a spokesperson for Airbnb said that although full details of the system are not yet available, the company will make sure proper safeguards are in place to protect refugees staying in Airbnb accommodation.
“Airbnb.org partners with trusted resettlement agencies and nonprofit partners like the International Rescue Committee, Church World Service and Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society” says Airbnb’s Liz DeBold Fusco. “These organizations have been supporting refugees along their resettlement journey for decades, and have strict requirements around housing standards. These organizations are trained on how to find suitable listings, communicate directly with hosts prior to the stay, and are on standby for any issues that arise during the stay.”
Separately, Airbnb also gave assurances it will not derive financial benefit from the program.
“Airbnb does not make money from this program,” says DeBold Fusco. “To clarify, the program will be funded by contributions to Airbnb.org from Airbnb and CEO and co-founder Brian Chesky, as well as donors to the Airbnb.org Refugee Fund. Airbnb waives all of its fees for Airbnb.org stays, including these refugee stays. Airbnb also provides technology, services and other resources to Airbnb.org at no cost.”
Airbnb also pointed out the company’s history of helping with accomodation during times of crisis, including during the flooding in Western Europe earlier in 2021, as well as offering housing to frontline workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.