Hamburg Passes Law To Seize Vacant Buildings For Refugees

The city of Hamburg in Germany has passed a bylaw allowing the government to temporarily seize vacant commercial buildings in order to house refugees, German broadcaster DW reports.

The bylaw, passed on Thursday evening, makes Hamburg the first German city to pass such a law, according to the BBC.

The law comes into effect next week and will run until March 2017. It allows the Hamburg municipal government to confiscate vacant buildings to shelter refugees during the winter months if the owners refuse to voluntarily hand them over in exchange for compensation. Appropriations can only occur when the main refugee centers are at full capacity.

Around 50 police officers were deployed to a Hamburg refugee center on Thursday after clashes which reportedly involved more than 200 Syrian and Afghan refugees. A string of brawls at crowded German refugee centers have broken out over the past few weeks.

Hamburg's Senator for the Interior and Sport, Michael Neumann, said on Friday that renting or buying extra buildings to house refugees was preferable to the emergency measures. "I hope that the law will never be applied," he said, according to DW.

The bylaw will only affect commercial properties and not residential ones. The legislation was passed with the support of the city's leftist coalition of the Social Democrats, Greens and Die Linke (The Left) parties, but drew criticism from the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP). Katja Suding, the leader of the FDP in Hamburg, told German radio channel Deutschlandradio Kultur that the bylaw was a breach of property rights and accused the government of ignoring offers of accommodation from citizens.

Germany is preparing to receive as many as 800,000 refugees by the end of 2015 and the German President Joachim Gauck, warned on Monday: "Our ability to take people in is limited, although we don't know yet where those limits are." Up to 500 refugees are reaching Hamburg each day, according to DW.

The mood towards refugees in Germany—which has led the way in responding to Europe's worst refugee crisis since World War II—appears to be souring. A poll published on Thursday by German broadcaster ARD showed that a majority of Germans—51 percent—are now concerned by the number of refugees entering the country, a 13 point increase on a similar poll taken in September.