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Empty prisons become homes for refugees in the Netherlands

AP: Muhammed Muheisen

The refugee crisis in Europe has created unending turmoil. Each week brings fresh images of refugees stranded behind chain link fences or marooned in bleak camps. 

After seeing so many dreary scenes, it makes sense to assume that Europe simply has no room to host refugees. That countries are simply bursting at the seams. 

But that's not quite true.

Sometimes you just have to get creative.  

The Netherlands has experienced a massive decline in incarceration over the past few decades. So many less criminals are being imprisoned, that huge facilities have been emptied of occupants. 

Rather than bulldoze these safe, secure structures, or save them for some violent future, the country decided to repurpose them. 

Now, thousands of refugees from all over the world are living in the prisons.

AP_349303569080.jpgImage: AP: Muhammed Muheisen

Unlike prisoners, the refugees are allowed to freely enter and leave the facility. 

The refugees decorate their rooms to regain a sense of identity and in their spare time they study Dutch, practice crafts and plan for the future. 

Generally, they stay for around 6 months while their asylum applications are processed. 

When you remove the harsh limitations on freedom, a prison loses its ominous atmosphere--it just becomes a place to house people. 

AP_986963989201.jpgImage: AP: Muhammed Muheisen

For the inhabitants, the prison is ideal. It provides a roof and heating and a place to regroup and recover. 

There are currently more than 60 million refugees globally and many more people who are internally displaced by conflict, natural disasters or repression.  

All around the world there are empty prisons, apartment buildings and houses. It shouldn't be a radical idea to use them to give a home people without anywhere to go.