Charities aiding refugees witnessed a surge in donations across Europe Friday as people shocked by the heart-rending images of a drowned Syrian boy on a Turkish beach dug deep to help.
British Prime Minister David Cameron, under pressure to act, said Britain would provide an extra £100 million (137 million euros, $153 million) in humanitarian aid for the Syrian crisis, bringing London’s total contribution to more than 1.0 billion pounds.
The International Olympic Committee launched an emergency two-million-euro ($2.2 million) fund, as money flooded into the coffers of aid organisations helping those fleeing Iraq and Syria.
The photos of the lifeless body of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi, dressed in blue shorts and a red T-shirt, washed up on a beach in Bodrum, Turkey, have triggered a wave of emotion across the continent, despite deep divisions among European governments about how to deal with the crisis.
“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) since Aylan’s photo went viral.
“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, little 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 off the Turkish coast on Wednesday while trying to reach Europe across the Aegean Sea and escape the four-year conflict in Syria.
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.”
Jan-Willem Anholts, spokesman for the Dutch government’s Central Asylum Seekers’ Organ (COA), told AFP its switchboard was so flooded with calls on Thursday they had to bring in six extra workers.
“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, and said it was organising a friendly game at which it hoped to raise a further million euros for the migrants.
– UN says still underfunded –
In Sweden, the boss of an 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.
He said the money that would have been spent on the weekend would now help feed and house more than 5,700 people for a month.
The UN refugee agency UNHCR said that 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 that in the past weeks there has been a surge in donations, even though the UNHCR and its partners say they remain hugely underfunded as they grapple with the growing crisis.