In the early hours of February 6, two large earthquakes hit southeast Türkiye. Tremors and aftershocks were felt in Syria and the region. Just two weeks later, another earthquake struck southern Türkiye. These earthquakes have claimed nearly 60,000 lives and caused untold destruction to homes and infrastructure.
One hundred days later, the full scale of the devastation from the earthquakes is still being uncovered. Many people living in the earthquake zones who had previously lost their homes because of the Syrian conflict must now rebuild completely, a process which could take years.
In the immediate aftermath of the earthquakes, Airbnb.org (a US-based nonprofit) stepped up to offer assistance and financial support to UNHCR teams in Türkiye to help book short-term accommodation for refugees displaced by the disaster.
To talk about this partnership — and more broadly about the work Airbnb.org is doing to help those displaced find temporary housing — we spoke with Moli Dow, the Response and Partnerships Manager for Europe, the Middle East and Africa at Airbnb.org.
USA for UNHCR: Moli, could you tell us how Airbnb first became involved in providing temporary housing for people that have been forced to flee their homes?
Moli Dow: Sure. It all started in 2012 after New York was hit by Hurricane Sandy. An Airbnb Host in Brooklyn named Shell contacted Airbnb and asked if she could offer her place for free to people who had to evacuate. The Airbnb team thought it was an amazing idea and worked long hours to make it an option for other Hosts as well. After that, over 1,000 Hosts made their homes free for evacuees. Since then, Airbnb founded Airbnb.org, an independent nonprofit organization that responds to humanitarian crises as well as other natural disasters. We've provided support for wildfire evacuees in Australia, hurricane evacuees in the Americas, asylum seekers across Latin America, frontline workers during the pandemic, more than 20,000 refugees from Afghanistan in 2021, and nearly 130,000 refugees fleeing Ukraine since the start of the conflict. So far, we have helped well over 250,000 people find temporary housing through these programs.
USA for UNHCR: When and why did you start working with USA for UNHCR?
Moli Dow: UNHCR has been a longtime collaborator with Airbnb and now Airbnb.org. In 2016, Airbnb launched a donation campaign to raise funds for UNHCR, matching contributions from the Airbnb community and helping to raise over $1.6 million to support refugees globally. We have always valued UNHCR teams’ willingness to share key intelligence and guidance about housing needs on the ground, as well as your expertise in providing disaster relief and temporary housing. Our partnership is rooted in collaboration and information sharing.
Over the past couple of years, our teams have been discussing how our organizations can further optimize our work together, including exploring how USA for UNHCR could utilize Airbnb.org to expand housing support. This meant we were already set up to respond when the earthquakes in Türkiye struck.
USA for UNHCR: Great segue! Could you talk a bit about your response to the crisis in Türkiye and Syria?
Moli Dow: As I mentioned, both sides were prepped and ready to discuss how we could work together to respond to this crisis so we could mobilize quickly, which was great. I think one of the main reasons Airbnb.org wanted to support USA for UNHCR, particularly for this crisis, was because your work aligned so well with our diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility commitments. Following the earthquakes, we've been supporting both local and refugee populations with many coming from vulnerable, marginalized backgrounds. We wanted to make sure we partnered with international, national and local organizations that share our commitment to equity and are proactively focusing on these populations to supplement the government’s efforts. This is a key reason Airbnb.org provided a grant to USA for UNHCR to fund short term accommodation for refugees.
USA for UNHCR: What’s next for Airbnb.org?
Moli Dow: Right now, we’re working to improve accessibility alongside diversity, equity, and inclusion in all that we do, embedding equity centered-design methods into our work and our organization. This includes partnering with more community-based organizations and nonprofits that share our commitment to equity, like USA for UNHCR, as well as working with leading diversity and equity experts to help assess and improve our work.
We’re really excited to continue to learn and grow from our partnerships, particularly our partnership with you. The earthquake response in Türkiye is the first time our teams will be directly working together to support housing for refugees, and we anticipate many opportunities to expand this collaboration, including our work focused on supporting asylum seekers in other parts of the world.
USA for UNHCR: What advice would you have for other organizations that are considering supporting refugees, whether it’s working directly with USA for UNHCR or other partner organizations?
Moli Dow: Internationally, refugee resettlement schemes are at a really important inflection point. In this climate, Airbnb.org is prioritizing finding and working with organizations – like UNHCR – who are embracing new models, programs and innovations to meet rising needs. Equally, we think it's paramount that organizations work with partners who put the safety and critical wrap-around support of refugees first.
For years, I have watched how tirelessly USA for UNHCR has advocated for refugees around the world. You expertly navigate ever changing and challenging political climates, and it's a complicated world out there!
USA for UNHCR: Finally, how can people get involved in supporting Airbnb.org's mission?
Moli Dow: People can get involved by signing up to be an Airbnb.org Host and offering their space for free or at a discount during times of crisis. They can also donate directly to Airbnb.org to support our work.
Interested in helping refugees build a better future?
Email firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about how your company, organization or foundation can partner with USA for UNHCR.