New Homes from Old Prisons


Inside view of De Koepel, one of the prisons now housing refugees in the Netherlands
Photo by Travelamāns via Wikimedia Commons

Liz Waid and Colin Lowther look at a creative housing project in the Netherlands – turning prisons into temporary safe homes for refugees.

Watch Video


Transcript


Voice 1  

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Liz Waid.

Voice 2  

And I’m Colin Lowther. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

Voice 1  

A man walks slowly through a long building. All the doors in this place look the same. They are thick. They have heavy locks on them. The man is in a prison. But when he gets to his door he opens it and smiles. His daughter happily runs to him and cries out his name. He can smell the food his wife has cooked for their meal. He is happy to be home. This man and his family are living in a prison that has been made into a home.

Voice 2  

In The Netherlands many prisons have been closed. Instead, they have been made into homes for refugees from around the world. Today’s Spotlight is on this creative housing project.

Voice 1

Many prisons in The Netherlands are empty. Since 2010, more than 20 prisons here have closed. This is about one-third of all prisons in The Netherlands. And that number is rising every year. Prisons are closing because the crime rate has been going down every year. And methods of punishment are changing. Tom Coggins is a writer for the website Culture Trip. He wrote,

Voice 3  

“National statistics suggest that crime rates in the Netherlands have gone down by about 0.9 percent every year. Even people found guilty rarely face long prison sentences. The Dutch legal system, most of the time, does not have strong punishments. Instead they use fines or use devices people wear on their leg so the government knows where there are. They do this instead of only using prisons.”

Voice 2  

People from the Netherlands are practical people. If something is not working, they will change it. René van Swaaningen is a professor of criminology at Erasmus School of Law in Rotterdam. He explained to the New York Times the attitude toward crime in The Netherlands.

Voice 4  

“The Dutch value what works. This is true when it comes to making laws and keeping order. Prisons cost a lot of money. In a place like the United States, people often look at the moral reasons for putting someone in prison. But the Netherlands looks at what is working and what could work better.”

Voice 1  

So in the last few years, prisons in The Netherlands were closing. But at this same time, millions of people across Europe were also looking for a safe place to live. There was a war in the country of Syria. Over six million people had to leave the country. Other refugees came from countries like Afghanistan, South Sudan, Iraq, and Somalia. These people wanted a safe place to live and work. Some countries in Europe did not welcome these people. But many countries did want to help. However, it was difficult to know how to take care of so many people. Simply finding homes was a challenge. In 2015 alone, more than 60,000 refugees entered The Netherlands.

Voice 2  

The Netherlands saw a creative way to help this situation. The Central Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers, or COA, is responsible for managing people escaping from other countries. They decided to use the empty prisons as homes for refugees. In 2017, the COA opened 12 centers for refugees.

Voice 1  

However, the government did not want people to feel like they were in prison. They needed to change the prisons. At some prisons they removed walls. They planted trees and flowers. They made places for children to play and run. They combined two prison rooms to make them larger and better for families. They added places to cook food, exercise, and take language and computer classes.

Voice 2  

It is still clear that the buildings used to be prisons. They still look like prisons. There are strong doors and locks. There are gates. But the people there are not criminals. They have different rules. Refugees are not permitted to work. They receive money from the government for basic needs. They may leave the building and return when they want to. They can ride a bicycle, which is very common in the Netherlands. They need to tell the people working at the refugee center when they leave and return. This is to keep everyone safe. Many centers offer classes in the Dutch language, computers, or other skills.

Voice 1  

Refugees do not live in the centers forever. But they live there for at least six months. Their goal is to become citizens of The Netherlands. Sometimes the process can go slowly. People may even be approved to live in The Netherlands, but they have nowhere to go yet.

Voice 2  

And living in a different country requires people to learn a whole new culture. Nasr came to the Netherlands from Syria. He spoke to Aljazeera about moving to a new country and how he is starting to fit in.

Voice 5  

"It was difficult to live in a new culture. But I started going out and speaking to people and finding a job. Now, most of my friends are Dutch."

Voice 1

Living in these prisons is not always wonderful. But it is not terrible either. Muhammed Muheisen did not think using prisons in this way was a good idea at first. He is a photographer for the Associated Press. He has worked for years taking pictures of refugees in Europe and the Middle East. When he heard about this project, he could not imagine anything but a prison. He did not like the idea of putting refugees in a prison. After six months, he was permitted to visit a refugee centre and take pictures. He explained to National Geographic,

Voice 6  

“I did not exactly understand. I thought it would feel like they were in prison.”

Voice 2  

Muheisen visited three different centers. He spent over a month visiting people and seeing their lives. He gained a much different understanding. The centers could even be considered beautiful in the way different people live together. He explained,

Voice 6  

“We are talking about people from many different countries. There is the whole world represented in this place.”

Voice 1  

What do you think about this way to use prisons? Have you ever had to leave your country? Where did you go? Tell us about your experiences. You can leave a comment on our website. Or email us at radio@radioenglish.net. You can also comment on Facebook at Facebook.com/spotlightradio.

Voice 2  

The writer of this program was Adam Navis. The producer was Michio Ozaki. The voices you heard were from the United States and the United Kingdom. All quotes were adapted for this program and voiced by Spotlight. You can listen to this program again, and read it, on the internet at http://www.radioenglish.net. This program is called, “New Homes from Old Prisons”.

Voice 1  

Visit our website to download our free listening app for Android and Apple devices. We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye.

Question:

Have you ever had to leave your country? Where did you go?

Comments


Avatar Spotlight
kenhieuloilam
said on August 22, 2019

Each of us has difficulties in life. Each of us struggles with difficulties in life. Difficulties are big. We make much effort to overcome difficulties. Life has difficulties. Life will have more difficulty if not-good things increase. Life will have less difficulty if not-good things decrease. Life is better when each of us lives our lives for beautiful good things. Each of us has difficulties in life. Each of us struggles with difficulties in life. Life has less difficulty when each of us lives our lives for beautiful good things. Life of each of us has less difficulty when we live to be a good person.

Avatar Spotlight
Lan Can
said on August 24, 2019

Dutch government is so kind and creative. It is a great idea. Flowers can grow from barbed wire. In the past, it was a painful and criminal place. But now through the dark, it becomes the place of love and light.

Severino Ramos da Silva's avatar
Severino Ramos da Silva
said on November 14, 2019

From .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
To spolight program
Subject to answer to the questions below
Location São Paulo city São Paulo brazil
Thursday 14, November 2019

Dear Adam Navis, Michio Ozaki, Liz Waid, and Colin Lowther

I thank you for producing and writing more one great article for us brazilian people and others around the World.
Question 1 - Have you ever had to leave your country?
Answer 1 - No, never.
Question 2 - Where did you go?
Answer 2 - At nowhere.
God bless you
Severino Ramos
Brazil