Javad Sarempour, 29, refugee from Shiraz, Iran, plays his violin in his new home he found at the family home of Ralf and Ilona Bünning in the island district of Wilhelmsburg in Hamburg, Germany, October 16, 2015. (Astrid Riecken For The Washington Post)

Javad Sarempour, left, guides Bayan Ghani, 41, a refugee from Afghanistan to the bathroom where he will help Bayan to shower at the home of Ralf and Ilona Bünning in Hamburg, Germany, October 18, 2015. Bayan, who suffers from Polio since age 1, arrived in Germany in September, 2015. (Astrid Riecken For The Washington Post)

Photographer Astrid Riecken had been intensely following the the unfolding drama of refugees fleeing to Europe while on assignment for The Washington Post. In October, Riecken followed the journey of Javad Sarempour, a 29-year-old refugee from Shiraz, Iran who had been recently embraced by a German couple assisting refugees. Riecken spoke to In Sight about Javad’s story and how he has been adjusting to his new life in Western Europe.


Javad Sarempour, right, listens to the instructions of Ilona Bünning who explains how to shower Bayan Ghani, left, at their home in Hamburg, Germany, October 18, 2015. (Astrid Riecken For The Washington Post)

Ilona Bünning shows Javad, left, how to assist her husband Ralf Bünning at their home in Hamburg. All three were laughing loudly because it took Javad a little while before he managed to dress Ralf. (Astrid Riecken For The Washington Post)

When in September of 2015 German’s chancellor Angela Merkel announced that Germany would open its border and welcome any asylum seeker, particularly those fleeing the war in Syria, I knew I had to go to see and report on how Germans would deal with this crisis.

Right from the beginning I knew that I wanted to focus on the direct interactions between humans, meaning Germans and refugees, in a smaller more intimate context, preferably at the homes of Germans who offer their homes as a shelter to refugees. My intention was and will continue to be showing what the very essence of the solution of this crisis is: the working together of all kinds of people from all kinds of places and countries. I wanted to find stories that show that once religious and cultural difference are put aside and people are willing to work hand in hand, they can solve the toughest challenges.


Ilona Bünning, right, Javad Sarempour, left, and Ralf Bünning take a stroll near their family home. (Astrid Riecken For The Washington Post)

Javad Sarempour helps Bayan Ghani, to take off his cloth before showering him at the family home of Ralf and Ilona Bünning. After showering Bayan first herself, Ilona then assigned Javad with this task. Javad says he feels good about helping others in need. (Astrid Riecken For The Washington Post)

Javad arrived in Germany in May of 2015 and filed his application for asylum shortly after. The former student of chemical engineering and self-taught music teacher belongs to the Bahá’ís religion. Bahá’ís believers continue to be persecuted in Islamic countries, particularly in Iran, where more than 200 Bahá’ís were convicted and executed between 1978 and 1998. The Bahá’ís faith teaches that all humans have been created equal and therefor a spiritual unity of all humankind exists with only one god for all. While living in Iran, Javad would openly talk about his religious belief and the importance of free expression, particularly in the arts. He says it was because of his outspokenness that he lost his study place at the Islamic Azad University of Science and Research and Fars in Shiraz, Iran where he had studied chemical engineering for three years.

Ilona, like her husband Ralf, have been very involved in assisting refugees within their church community of the Kreuzkirche (cross church) and the refugee aid organization ‘Die Insel Hilft’ (The Insel Helps). Ilona’s husband Ralf suffers from multiple sclerosis and is confined to the wheelchair.

-Astrid Riecken


Javad Sarempour, 29, right, helps Bayan Ghani, 41, left, to shave his beard after showering him at the family home of Ralf and Ilona Bünning in the island district of Wilhelmsburg in Hamburg, Germany, October 18, 2015. (Astrid Riecken For The Washington Post)

Javad Sarempour, 29, refugee from Shiraz, Iran, locks the door to the garden house where he found shelter at the family home of Ralf and Ilona Bünning in the island district of Wilhelmsburg in Hamburg, Germany, October 16, 2015. (Astrid Riecken For The Washington Post)

Javad Sarempour plays the organ at the Kreuzkirche (cross church) near the family home of Ralf and Ilona Bünning in in Hamburg, Germany, October 16, 2015. (Astrid Riecken For The Washington Post)

Javad Sarempour receives a hand shake from a member of the Free Church of the Wilhelmsburgprojekt before attending a Sunday church service with Ralf Bünning, left, at the Vocational School of Wilhelmsburg. Kamyar Madooli, refugee from Iran, second from left, watches. (Astrid Riecken For The Washington Post)

Javad Sarempour sings with Ralf Bünning during a Sunday church service of the Free Church of the Wilhelmsburgprojekt at the Vocational School of Wilhelmsburg. (Astrid Riecken For The Washington Post)

More In Sight:

From the windows of trains in Europe, refugees peer out towards new lives

The story behind the photos of Syrian refugees escaping along the ‘Black Route’: Part I

The story behind the photos of Syrian refugees escaping along the ‘Black Route’: Part 2