Europe

Migrant crisis: Hamburg uses shipping containers as homes

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Media captionAuthorities in Hamburg are turning shipping containers into accommodation for migrants

Dust blows across the path as women carry what possessions they have in flimsy blue bin bags. One calls out to a little boy on a bicycle but her words are lost in the sound of loud drilling and hammering.

Workmen are still building this site and these are some of Hamburg's newest refugee homes, with room for just over 200 people.

All around are converted shipping containers: functional metal boxes painted red and stacked two storeys high. New tenants are already moving in.

A family invites us inside. Yusef is an energetic young man who introduces his wife, a shy pregnant woman in a bright pink headscarf, and his little girl.

Image caption Yusef, who was a baker in Iraq, hopes to get a job to support his family

"I didn't like life in Iraq," he tells me. "Maybe I'm killed, maybe my children are killed, maybe my wife is killed. In the markets there are car bombers, in the hospital there are car bombers."

The family is waiting to hear whether Germany will give them a home for the long term.

It can take up to five months for an asylum application to be processed, although the government has promised to reduce the average waiting time to three months.

For now, Yusef and his family live in a single room and share a kitchen and bathroom with the other tenants. His oldest child is now in a German school. He hopes to learn German then get a job.

As Yusef makes tentative plans for the future, the authorities in Hamburg are struggling. It's estimated that about 400 refugees and migrants arrive here every day.


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Media captionMany towns and cities are struggling to cope with the record influx of asylum seekers, reports Jenny Hill

Chancellor Angela Merkel insisted again at the weekend that Germany could cope with the record number of people seeking asylum in the country.

But the woman given the task of co-ordinating some of the refugee housing in Hamburg tells us the sheer numbers are a huge logistical problem.

"We're packing people into supermarkets, into a tennis hall, just to get a roof over their heads," Christiana Kant tells the BBC.

In fact, as the city ran out of accommodation, the regional government passed a new law allowing it to force commercial landlords to rent them empty buildings.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Thousands of people protested in Dresden on Monday against the arrival of so many asylum seekers

A recent poll has revealed a significant shift in public attitudes towards asylum seekers in Germany.

A growing number of people now say they're concerned by the high number of refugees arriving in the country.

Volunteer army

Thousands of Germans took part in anti-refugee protests in several towns at the weekend.

But it seems a significant proportion of the German public still want to help the new arrivals.

Image caption Volunteers are concerned that providing supplies will become harder as the numbers grow

All over the country people are still giving their time, money and possessions to the people who seek a new life here.

In Hamburg there's a vast warehouse. Its ceilings are high; birds fly through the open doors at either end and scores of volunteers push trolleys up and down aisles of stacked cardboard boxes. Others fold clothing into bags.

Everything here has been donated by people in Hamburg, along with supplies and children's toys.

Every day, vans and lorries collect pallets and boxes and deliver them to refugee shelters around the city.

A rather harassed co-ordinator called Simone says that with refugees arriving every day in Hamburg, demand was growing.

"We don't know if we have enough clothing for them all, especially with winter coming," she says.