SYRIAN refugees will be able to choose their new accommodation in Ireland and around the world from an Airbnb-style website created by volunteer web designers.
Niamh Phelan, an independent web analyst from Kildare, and nine other technology experts in Ireland, Britain, Romania and Singapore have created an online template that she says could be switched on immediately.
Refugeebnb.com will provide details about the homes in which people in Ireland and elsewhere have offered beds. Similar to the commercial website Airbnb, it will give information about the number of people and bedrooms in the household, if there are pets or musical instruments, what languages are spoken, and whether the house is in a rural or urban area, or close to the sea. The information will be displayed in 34 languages.
“There’s quite a bit of work gone into it but everyone’s done it for free,” said Phelan. “I knocked on open doors last weekend. People came on board because they wanted to do something to help.
“We’ve branded it as Refugeebnb because people know what it means from Airbnb. It’s a very easy thing to do with technology, and it seems to me pretty cruel [not] to ask people if they would prefer to live in the country or by the sea, or with somebody who likes music or dancing. It would be nice if hosts would say what their favourite thing is about their house, to give it a bit of personality.”
Phelan has offered the website to Uplift, the social-justice campaign organisation which is running a Pledge a Bed initiative, whereby citizens can offer refugees accommodation in their homes. By last Friday, 6,204 people in every county had pledged a total of 14,926 beds.
Phelan has also invited the Department of Justice to take on the co-ordination of the site with the reception of refugees. Frances Fitzgerald, the justice minister, told The Sunday Times the website could be put to immediate use, helping to provide accommodation for 400 families who are currently in direct provision centres despite being granted refugee status.
Fitzgerald said Refugeebnb is one of numerous voluntary proposals submitted to her department, which will be discussed at the first meeting of an emergency task force on Tuesday.
It will be attended by representatives of the Red Cross, officials from the Department of the Environment, and members of the defence forces. The Red Cross is collating and assessing the offers.
“There’s a huge outpouring of goodwill,” Fitzgerald said.
Last Thursday, the government announced Ireland will receive 4,000 people under the Irish Refugee Protection Programme.
Of those, 520 people will be classified by the UN Human Rights Commission as refugees and will have the same rights as Irish citizens. The other 3,480 will be processed through reception and orientation centres.