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LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Citizens in Germany, one of the most sought-after destinations for refugees, should be allowed to host asylum seekers in their homes to ease the pressure on the government to provide adequate housing for them, a politician said on Friday.
Martin Patzelt, a lawmaker and member of the Christian Democratic Union, said households should be permitted to provide free lodging to refugees, leaving only the cost of living and healthcare to the government.
He said the measure would save Germany a considerable amount of money housing refugees, and provide an alternative to crowded temporary shelters, hotels and unused gyms.
Germany, the European Union's biggest economy, is one of the world's top destinations for people fleeing oppression and war.
It had 65,700 new asylum claims in the first half of the year, the largest number among industrialized nations, mainly due to a rise in applications by Syrians, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
"In times of crisis, we have to stay together and accept that the problem of the refugees is a common one," Patzelt told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Despite receiving an initially cautious reaction from the government, and death threats from members of the public, Patzelt said his proposal was gaining widespread support.
"I am receiving more and more letters from people offering to host refugees, and a poll by RTL television showed that 30 percent of people, particularly younger generations, want to help," Patzelt said.
The former mayor of Frankfurt/Oder said he planned to present his proposal to the Ministry of the Interior, which is in charge of finding refugees accommodation.
Hans ten Feld, UNHCR representative in Berlin, welcomed the proposal and said other countries should follow the example of Germany, which had "led the way so far in the West".
UNHCR has called for rich countries around the world to resettle an additional 100,000 Syrian refugees in 2015 and 2016.
The agency had initially called upon states to host 30,000 of the most vulnerable Syrian refugees by the end of 2014.
"The responsibility to accommodate these refugees ultimately lies with the German government, but citizens also taking them into their homes would be a positive signal from civil society," ten Feld told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
If Patzelt's proposal was successful in Germany, it could set a precedent across Europe for people to open their doors to refugees, he said in a telephone interview from Berlin.
Reporting By Kieran Guilbert; Editing by Katie Nguyen