PARIS: Even before the harrowing image of a drowned Syrian toddler sent shockwaves around the world, EU citizens were launching initiatives on the Internet and social media to provide help and pressure governments into action.
Following is a sample of the schemes in some European countries:
Tens of thousands of British citizens have petitioned their government calling for the country to accept more asylum seekers. It had obtained more than 130,000 signatures after the distressing photo of the body of three-year-old Aylan washed up on a beach in Turkey went viral.
Volunteers have also collected 500 pairs of rubber boots left at muddy music festival sites such as Glastonbury and Reading, and taken them with tents and 2,000 ponchos and first-aid kits to the northern French port of Calais where thousands of migrants camp in “the Jungle” while they find a way to reach Britain.
In late August, 150 people cycled from London to Calais on a “solidarity bike ride”, turning their bicycles over to migrants after they arrived.
The gruesome discovery last week of 71 decomposing bodies, believed to be Syrian refugees, in a truck abandoned on an Austrian highway, prompted one German theatre troupe into action. The theatre in the western city of Bochum invited the public to pack into a refrigerated lorry to give them a glimpse into the hardships experienced by people trying to reach Europe from conflict zones.
A blog called http://wie-kann-ich-helfen.info/ (how can I help) lists citizens initiatives including donations, language classes and art lessons. “Most offer German lessons to children, (or) collect clothes, bicycles and furniture. They go with refugees to doctors or to the authorities, they translate documents or help fill out forms,” founder Brite Vogel told AFP.
World Cup champion footballers led by captain Bastian Schweinsteiger made a video to call for “respect” and “help” for refugees.
The Baobab cultural centre in Rome, which claims to be the only initiative in Europe run by immigrants themselves, provides clothing and food for refugees waiting to travel on to other EU countries. Neighbours back the centre with donations, and Pope Francis has sent several lorryloads of food there.
In Sarmeola, northern Italy, a 90-year-old woman turned her house over to refugees and went to live in a small apartment. On the stunning Cinque Terre coast, a hostel manager has reserved several of his bungalows for refugees.
After the government said just 50 Syrian refugees would be taken in, author and professor Bryndis Bjorgvinsdottir urged her 330,000 compatriots to speak out on Facebook. By Wednesday, more than 14,000 people had backed her initiative. Some offered to house refugees while others want to donate time, clothes, food and toys, and provide help integrating into Icelandic society.
Iceland’s foreign minister has said the volcanic North Atlantic island may welcome more refugees, but did not give a specific number.
The Facebook group “Refugees welcome to Norway” now has more than 30,000 members. The group collects basic necessities for refugees and gives them information on food and clothing distribution and homes that have room.
One member offered to sell their share in a sailboat and donate the money to help migrants, while another suggests foregoing Christmas gifts this year to do the same. Others offer skills in health care, psychology and languages, including Arabic, the Ethiopian tongue Tigrinya, and Amaraic, which is spoken in parts of the Middle East.