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PARIS – With more and more refugees appearing in Europe daily this summer, cities and towns are grappling with a basic but crucial problem: Where can they all sleep?
Tent camps are the most widespread solution for migrants in limbo and refugees seeking asylum, and have cropped up in public squares, meadows and train stations this summer around Europe. But some officials and charity groups have come up with alternative solutions — here's a look at a few:
Portable shipping containers are being converted into refugee apartments in Germany, which saw nearly half of Europe's overall 400,000 asylum applications in the first half of the year. Colorfully painted and stacked on top of each other, they are housing more than 2,000 refugees in Berlin. One container village in southwest Berlin includes flats for families, shared kitchens and bathrooms, and accommodation for the disabled. Demand is high for new container buildings by German city and state governments. A Czech factory in the village of Supikovice, owned by France-based Touax Group, is among producers of such containers enjoying a bonanza of orders this year from Germany, Sweden and elsewhere.
A former Paris high school is now home to about 200 migrants, its classrooms lined with sleeping bags atop makeshift cardboard mattresses. The asphalt courtyard echoes with myriad languages as migrants kick soccer balls, play cards or paint murals on the school's peeling walls. Inside, they drink instant coffee and eat goulash concocted from donated ingredients. French humanitarian groups are increasingly converting abandoned public buildings like the school into migrant centers, recognizing that official emergency housing spots created this summer aren't enough to shelter everyone. France has approximately 25,000 beds nationwide designated for asylum seekers but nearly 70,000 applied for asylum last year.
Shrinking military spending and the end of conscription in some countries have left empty barracks and other military housing scattered around Europe, and authorities from Finland to Belgium are converting them to lodge migrants. The former U.S. military barracks in Heidelburg, Germany, closed about two years ago, is among those that have opened up to migrants. At the edge of the Burgundy village of Pouilly-en-Auxois, a few dozen young migrants from Sudan, Eritrea and Chad are living in former gendarme barracks. They were brought from the port city of Calais, a flashpoint for migrant tensions where some 3,000 would-be refugees live in crude camps with no amenities. The Le Monde newspaper says locals, initially skeptical, now bring migrants clothes and old bicycles, and sometimes play football with them.
Some Italian cities have tried to put migrants in empty private homes, or homes for the elderly. In the northern Italian town of Rivaldomo, about two dozen young migrants from Nigeria and Ghana moved into a house that belongs to a man serving prison time for pedophilia, tending its small garden and learning woodwork as they wait for their asylum applications to be processed. They faced pressures from neighbors, but charity workers argue that putting migrants in homes and keeping them in smaller groups makes it easier for locals to get to know them. The issue of housing migrants is contentious politically in Italy, which has received a disproportionately large number of Europe's migrants this year, over 111,000 so far, according to the International Organization for Migration.
SHUTTERED TOURIST SITES
Near Dublin, a defunct seaside family resort has housed migrants since 2001, living among derelict amusement park rides and empty snack stands. About 600 migrants, including many large African families, currently live in abandoned rooms at the resort in Mosney, formerly part of the British budget chain Butlin's. Some have lived there for years. In Sweden, manors once used as hotels have been turned into refugee housing.
David Rising in Berlin, Maggy Donaldson in Paris, Colleen Barry in Milan, Shawn Pogatchnik in Dublin, Karl Ritter in Stockholm, Lorne Cook in Brussels, George Jahn in Vienna and Matti Huuhtanen in Helsinki contributed to this report.