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EXCLUSIVE: King's student denied Airbnb room because of her headscarf

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A KCL student was denied an Airbnb apartment because she wore a headscarf. 

Earlier this month, PhD student Nurjahan Saleque arrived in Hamburg to complete a six-month placement at a biotechnology company.

She was renting an apartment in Bonningstedt when she started looking for listings in areas with better transport access to her workplace.

Speaking exclusively to TNS, Nurjahan said that it takes her, on average, 40 minutes to commute to work by bus. Her apartment, which is located in a suburban area, is out of reach from other - more convenient - transport links. 

Initially, she chose not to live in the city centre because of the distance. 

'The reason why I didn't live in the centre of Hamburg was because it's far from work, the journey would take me about 45 minutes to an hour. But now it is taking me 40 minutes from where I'm living to the neighbouring town where I'm working.' 

When she started looking for an alternative location, Nurjahan came across an entire studio apartment in the district of Langenhorn- complete with its own kitchen area, washing machine and bathroom - listed at £626 per month.

More importantly, buses and trains were within walking distance. 

The apartment was also conveniently located 10 minutes from Hamburg Airport.

She sent a message to Claudia, whose profile showed five-stars for that particular property.

In the home highlights, Claudia is listed as a 'Superhost' - a title awarded to 'experienced, highly rated hosts.' Her bio states that she speaks six languages, completed a doctorate and is an author by profession. Overall, she is an accomplished woman. 

In her message, Nurjahan explained her situation.

'I was hoping to see whether I could book your apartment for 3 months from December,' she wrote. 

Her request was almost immediately declined.

When asked for clarification, Claudia explained that her apartment was free but she didn't think Nurjahan would 'fit into our neighbourhood' because of her headscarf. 

The Superhost further remarked that the decision to decline the request 'has nothing to do with your personal preferences.'

However, in her earlier message, Claudia clearly states that she rejected the request AFTER viewing Nurjahan's profile picture. She explicitly refers to the 'veil' as her reason for the rejection.

She further cites her neighbours' preferences as a contributing factor to her decision. 

'It's just that my neighbors have asked me to respect their preferences and I have also agreed to do so. We all have to give in to our surroundings in some way or other and I would like to remain on good terms with my neighbors.' 

In shock, Nurjahan asked her friends for their advice and later contacted Airbnb. 

She highlighted that Claudia had clearly breached their compliance policies which state that an Airbnb host may not decline a guest based on religion. 

Following the complaint, Airbnb offered an apology and travel credit. They have also permanently removed Claudia's listings and have reassured Nurjahan that she will not be able to make duplicate accounts as every hosting application requires vetting and ID.

In 2017, an Airbnb host was made to pay $5,000 in damages after cancelling a reservation because the guests were Asian. 

Further research reveals that a refugee shelter in Langenhorn was subject to a police search after the Hamburg knife attack in 2017. The attacker described as a 'rejected asylum seeker' and 'Islamist' was allegedly living in the shelter. 

Speaking about her experiences, Nurjahan explained that she has never been a victim of Islamophobia - at least not as an adult. She arrived in Hamburg with an open mind and the reception has been welcoming. 

A couple living on her road invited her out to dinner during her first few nights in the city. 

Ultimately, she is happy that Airbnb has taken action especially since other Muslims have approached her with similar stories.

Featured image courtesy of Poppert with a Camera

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