Millions pour into aid groups after toddler’s death
Millions of euros in donations flooded into aid groups Friday from across Europe and the US from people heart-broken by photos of a drowned Syrian toddler lying washed up on a Turkish beach.
Under pressure at home to act, British Prime Minister David Cameron said Britain would put up an extra £100 million (137 million euros, $153 million) in humanitarian aid for the Syrian crisis, bringing London’s total contribution to the conflict to more than 1.0 billion pounds.
And the children’s charity UNICEF reported that donations had sky-rocketed since the picture of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi lying face down on the sand, his little shoes still firmly tied on his feet, went viral.
“Donations are up 105 percent,” said a statement from the US-branch of UNICEF.
“When the image really hit the web, page views spiked over 149 percent over same time previous day.”
The International Olympic Committee also launched an emergency two-million-euro ($2.2 million) fund, as the picture of Aylan, still dressed in blue shorts and a red T-shirt, triggered a wave of emotion, despite deep divisions among European governments about how to act.
“There is an enormous response from the public, the tide of indifference is shifting,” Christian Peregrin, spokesman for the Malta-based Migrant Offshore Aid Station, told AFP.
The group, working to help migrants seeking to cross the Mediterranean from Libya, had by Friday received a record 600,000 euros ($666,500) in pledges.
“Before that, 10,000 euros in a day would have been a good day,” he said.
– Catalyst for action –
In the Netherlands, which has so far remained largely indifferent to the crisis, Aylan’s tragic fate has “served as a massive catalyst” to mobilise donations, a worker at the Dutch Refugee Council told AFP.
Aylan, his four-year-old brother Ghaleb and their mother Rihana drowned on Wednesday while trying to escape the four-year conflict in Syria and reach Europe across the Aegean Sea.
Since Aylan’s pictures were published “there’s been a whole change in attitude. Before, there was quite a bit of fear over the arrival of refugees,” the Dutch aid worker said, asking not to be named.
“Now people are realising that we have to do more.”
The Dutch government was examining ways to help, Prime Minister Mark Rutte told reporters, but he had no easy answers, adding there had to be a “European response.”
“We have to re-think the current tools available and be ready, in order to find a solution, for a new path.”
“We have all been touched by the terrible news and the heartbreaking stories in the past few days,” the International Olympic President Thomas Bach said, as the IOC launched its fund.
Outspoken Irish rocker Bob Geldof pledged to take in four Syrian families at his two homes calling the migrant crisis a “sickening disgrace”.
And Bayern Munich football club pledged one million euros to aid groups, saying it was organising a friendly game at which it hoped to raise a further million euros for the migrants.
Aid groups in the southern German city of Munich have been overwhelmed with donations.
“All our depots are full and volunteers are sorting through things. We’ve really received tonnes of things,” said Nicole Boessl, from the Diakonia humanitarian group.
– UN says still underfunded –
Other groups in the Bavarian city, such as the Catholic group Caritas, had had to ask donors to stop dropping off clothes and goods as they were overwhelmed.
In Sweden, the boss of information technology company, B3IT, persuaded his workers to cancel a planned weekend trip to Rome and donate the 42,500 euros it was costing.
“I was on my way to a meeting, when I saw the photo of the little boy. I was very upset. That could have been my children,” Jonas Elgquist told AFP.
The UN refugee agency UNHCR said since Thursday it has “received a hundred thousand dollars of unsolicited funding on our global donate page, which we are sure was largely due to the photo of the Syrian toddler,” said spokeswoman Melissa Fleming.
She added there has been a surge in donations in past weeks, even though the UNHCR and its partners say they remain hugely underfunded as they grapple with the growing crisis.
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