Toddler's drowning sparks surge of donations across Europe

Tima Kurdi, sister of Syrian refugee Abdullah Kurdi whose sons Aylan and Galip and wife Rehan were among 12 people who drowned in Turkey trying to reach Greece, cries while speaking to the media outside her home in Coquitlam, British Columbia on Sept
Tima Kurdi, sister of Syrian refugee Abdullah Kurdi whose sons Aylan and Galip and wife Rehan were among 12 people who drowned in Turkey trying to reach Greece, cries while speaking to the media outside her home in Coquitlam, British Columbia on Sept 3, 2015.PHOTO: REUTERS

THE HAGUE (AFP) - Charities helping refugees saw a surge in donations Friday across Europe as people shocked by the heart-rending images of a drowned Syrian boy on a Turkish beach dug deep to help out.

As the International Olympic Committee launched an emergency two-million-euro (S$3.2 million) fund, money flooded into the coffers of organisations working to help refugees fleeing Iraq and Syria and groups cancelled weekend events to donate the cash instead.

The photos of the lifeless body of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi, lying on a beach in Bodrum, Turkey, have triggered a wave of emotion across the continent, despite deep divisions among European governments on 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 since Aylan's photo went viral.

"Before that, 10,000 euros in a day would have been a good day," he said.

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 brother four-year-old Ghaleb and their mother Rihana drowned off the Turkish coast on Wednesday while trying to 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 worker said, asking not to be named.

"Now people are realising that we have to do more." Jan-Willem Anholts, spokesman for the Dutch government's Central Asylum Seekers' Organ (COA), told AFP that 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.

"Our thoughts are with the many refugees risking their lives and the lives of their families to escape danger."

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.