Heartbreaking photos of parents carrying their children in their arms while trekking through border checkpoints in their search for refuge caught the attention of one American mother who wanted to do something to help.
Cristal Logothetis of California told the Huffington Post she was inspired to help refugees fleeing Syria's chaotic civil war when she saw a photo of a Syrian boy washed up on the beach in Turkey. She watched the news and saw parents carrying their children as they hiked, and she imagined carrying her own child.
"Babies are so heavy," she told the Huffington Post. "The idea they're walking [with their children] to get to safety is amazing."
Ms. Logothetis began collecting baby carriers and started an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign to send a volunteer to Greece to deliver them. So far, she has raised more than $30,000 toward her initial goal of $2,500.
Similar programs have been started in California, Las Vegas, and Australia. A humanitarian group from Israel called IsraAid used a Facebook campaign to collect baby carriers, which volunteers delivered to Syrian and Afghan families in Serbia in mid-September. The group collected another 200 carriers after they left and will send more volunteers to the border between Serbia and Hungary to distribute them.
The debate over sanctuary for displaced Syrians continues, but the baby carriers streaming toward Europe demonstrate that Syrian refugees are now attracting much wider attention than in the early years of the Syrian civil war.
Europeans seeing the refugee crisis firsthand have also rallied to volunteer. Migration Aid, like the baby-carrier groups, collects items to help Syrians traveling through Eastern Europe via Facebook campaigns. A Hungarian law student named Zoltan volunteered to help welcome those waiting at the border by feeding them, he told The Christian Science Monitor.
"I can’t believe these people can’t fit anywhere,” said Zoltan, who did not give his last name. “There is chaos within the international community and no one is doing anything for these people. Someone must act quickly before the problem becomes bigger."
The outpouring of support in many European countries has marked a new surge of volunteer work in countries without a strong volunteer tradition, and its lasting impact remains to be seen.
"What you are seeing is spontaneous volunteering that is not sustainable in the long term due to lack of funding and support for volunteering infrastructure," Gabriella Civico, director of the European Volunteer Centre in Brussels, told the Monitor's Alexis Xydias.
While some refugees are being welcomed and helped, not everyone is responding with such openness. Hungary has struggled to handle the floods of people coming through the country and has begun putting up fences. Prime minister Viktor Orbán has called European efforts to accommodate the immigrants "madness," the Guardian reported.
Germany has tried to welcome refugees, but officials are worried about logistics. "It works – just – but under immense pressure," said Michael Meinders, a spokesman for a German city with overcrowded centers for refugees, to The New York Times. "Dortmund really can’t go on like this."