Unlike the United States of America, the prison population and crime rate in the Netherlands has been steadily decreasing for years. As a result, the country’s government is repurposing correctional facilities into housing for refugees who are waiting to be granted asylum status — a process that usually takes a minimum of six months. Not only will the refugees not be required to work, they will be supplied with educational materials to learn Dutch, ride bicycles and build connections within the local community.
After the number of migrants exceeded 50,000 in one year alone in the Netherlands, the Central Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers (COA) proposed a solution for the overflow of refugees: transform empty prisons into temporary housing for families and individuals escaping war.
Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and photographer Muhammed Muheisen captured the scoop by dedicating the past two years to photographing the refugee crisis as people traversed across continents. After hearing rumors that penitentiaries were being converted to house migrants in the Netherlands, his interest was piqued. He told National Geographic, “I didn’t exactly understand. I thought they feel like they are in prisons.”
After waiting six months to get permission to visit the prison and take photos, Muheisen spent 40 days touring three different facilities, meeting residents and documenting their lives. “We’re talking about dozens of nationalities,” he said. “Dozens. The whole world is under this dome.”
The refugees will be able to live in the centers for a minimum of six months and are free to come and go as they please. Additionally, they are supplied with resources needed to acclimate to the new country, learn Dutch and even ride bicycles. According to one Syrian man, the prison gives him hope for his future. The refugee told Muheisen, “If a country has no prisoners to put in jail, it means this is the safest country that I want to be living in.”