Nearly 60,000 Migrants and Refugees Now Being Housed in Former Dutch Prisons

With falling crime, the Dutch government has found a new use for its prisons.

ByABC News
May 17, 2016, 1:05 PM

— -- With falling crime, a dozen former prisons in the Netherlands are now being used to house the influx of migrants and refugees, officials say.

Nearly 60,000 migrants and refugees arrived in the Netherlands in 2015 and needed to be housed somewhere.

"We were looking for reception centers when the Justice Ministry asked us to look into empty prisons," Alet Bouwmeester, a spokeswoman at COA (a government agency responsible for housing asylum seekers), told ABC News in a phone interview.

"Although much had to be rebuilt, we realized there was a possibility with the prisons," Bouwmeester added.

Walls surrounding some of the prisons were taken down. Doors were changed and railings were removed.

"In some prisons, we've transformed two cells into one room. Some asylum-seekers like the privacy it gives them," Bouwmeester said.

Currently, 6,292 asylum seekers are living in former prisons in the Netherlands. Overall, the COA is providing shelter to more than 40,000.

"People initially reacted with suspicion, pointing that some refugees might not be able to deal with being in a former prison after being imprisoned in their home countries," Bouwmeester said. "But now I think many believe it was a good idea."

The Associated Press spoke to some asylum-seekers during recent visits to the prisons. One of them was Abdul Moeen Alhaji, a 16-year-old Syrian.

"I don't feel that it is a prison," he said. "What matters is that we are safe here."