Amid Europe's Migrant Tensions, Kindness Arises Too

Amid Europe's Migrant Tensions, Kindness Arises Too

Annika Holm Nielsen (r), and Calle Vangstrup sail in the Oresund strait between Copenhagen and Malmo, Sweden, Sept. 9, 2015.
A 24-year-old Danish woman sails refugees across windy straits to safety in Sweden. A Romanian, whose forebears were driven from their homeland, opens his house to today's migrants. A girl brings pens and paper to migrant children sleeping at a Milan train station.

While European governments string barbed wire across borders and assail each other over asylum rules, ordinary citizens are taking action to cope with an unprecedented inflow of migrants, their generosity offering moments of hope for the newcomers — and for Europe itself.
"Europe is the baker in Kos who gives away his bread to hungry and weary souls. Europe is the students in Munich and in Passau who bring clothes for the new arrivals at the train station. Europe is the policeman in Austria who welcomes exhausted refugees upon crossing the border," EU President Jean-Claude Juncker said earlier this month. "This is the Europe I want to live in."
Long-established aid groups and freshly created online forums are working collectively and tirelessly to help where governments can't, or won't. But individual acts of kindness are what many migrants will remember, whether they build new lives in Europe or eventually make it back to Syria, Sudan or wherever they call home.
These are but a few among the many, many people who have stepped out of their daily lives to contribute.
Sailing to safety

"Welcome. Do you want to go to Sweden?" Annika Holm Nielsen and Calle Vangstrup greeted refugees at Copenhagen's main train station with a sign bearing this message, offering to sail them across to Sweden, where asylum policies are friendlier.

It's just a couple of hours with good winds to Malmo, Sweden, but for asylum seekers, it could be the end of a long and perilous journey.

Their first passenger was an exhausted Syrian refugee. During the crossing, he was too nervous to eat or sleep, until he arrived within reach of the shore.

"Denmark and Sweden are very much alike, but if you are a refugee it's completely different societies," Holm Nielsen told The Associated Press as she refueled for another journey. "If you are a refugee in Denmark, you are treated as a problem."

Many Danes have helped refugees make it across the border by car, train or boat — despite the risk of being arrested for smuggling. Nielsen and Vangstrup decided to go public to raise awareness and encourage others to do the same.

In 1943, ordinary Danes helped more than 6,000 Danish Jews to cross the narrow Oresund straight between Denmark and Sweden in boats, after word went around that Nazi German authorities were planning to round them up.

Vangstrup lamented rising xenophobic and far right sentiments today in some European quarters. "The world hasn't gotten any better," he said.

Returning the favor

A Romanian student was on the train listening to John's Lennon's "Imagine" when the idea came to him: to welcome Syrian migrants into his family home.

Their plight reminded Tudor Carstoiu of his own ancestors. His grandfather, great-aunt and great grandparents had been twice forced out of their home in an area of northern Romania occupied by Soviet troops during World War II.

The family traveled to Poland, Germany and Hungary before settling in Romania. Six years ago, Carstoiu moved to Milan, where he's a graduate student and IT consultant.

"I want the migrants to feel at home in Romania, the way I feel at home in Italy," he told The AP.

The 26-year-old is among many Europeans whose own families faced persecution or exile, and who are now reaching out to today's refugees. In Croatia, where tensions have soared along the border with non-EU member Serbia, people whose families were forced from homes during the 1990s Balkan wars are among those offering food to migrants.

Carstoiu's offer — and attitude — stand in contrast with Romania's government, which was one of four EU members to vote against a plan last week to share asylum-seekers across the 28-member bloc. There is scant public support for the idea in one of the poorest EU nations.

Carstoiu hasn't settled a family yet in his three-room family home in the small village of Silindia, but he is working on it — he's setting up a non-governmental organization in Italy to coordinate housing and other help for migrants, and wants to reach out to refugees directly via social media or in person.

Fittingly, Carstoiu says the house was renovated with money his family won from a Romanian property restitution fund after they sued for the house they lost during World War II.

While Romanian politicians fear that migrants wouldn't integrate, Carstiou notes that millions of Romanians like himself have emigrated in recent years, and have largely succeeded in fitting in.

Some political leaders "want to build barriers," he said. "I want to build bridges."

Broke, but open-hearted

Many financially-battered Greeks resent the unprecedented numbers of hungry people arriving on their easternmost islands, but many others are reaching out — and opening their pantries.

There's the baker, mentioned by Juncker, who handed out bread to refugees on the island of Kos. On nearby Lesbos, priest Efstratios Dimou founded and operated a charity providing food, clothing and a place to rest. He died last month, but his charity carries on his work.

In Athens, refugees sleeping in a city square receive visits daily from residents who bring them something to eat, something to wear.

Foreigners are playing a role, too. Eric and Philippa Kempson, Britons living on Lesbos, help bring hundreds of migrants to shore every week, greeting them with water and apples as they reach land.

Eric Mills, a California native who now lives in Barcelona, was traveling in Turkey when he realized the gravity of the crisis, and found a way to help on the small Greek island of Symi. He and a friend rose before dawn and spent several hours a day preparing and serving food to hundreds of hungry new arrivals.

His volunteer spirit awakened, he hopes to motivate friends in the United States and Spain to pitch in, and find ways to subsidize or otherwise help refugees find haven in Europe, "one family at a time."

Moments of kindness
Targeted help is often the most useful. In the French port of Calais, Brigitte Lips has for years charged migrants' cell phones in her garage. For people living hand-to-mouth in filthy nearby camps, it's a cherished way to stay connected to their families and the outside world.

Others are setting an example. Finland's prime minister is opening his spare house to refugees on Jan. 1 after his family moves to the official prime minister's residence in Helsinki.

Pope Francis' call for help resonated with Polish priest Radoslaw Rakowski in Poznan. "I announced from the pulpit that we want to host a family," he said — and that Sunday, the church collected 24,000 zlotys ($6,500) toward renting an apartment.

A Syrian man living in Poznan has offered to be an interpreter. One family offered to teach them Polish. Another offered to take care of children when parents are busy with administrative visits.

In the Milan train station, volunteers have been helping migrants since 2013, some staying day and night. Lots of individuals bring donations — including 11-year-old Alice Chiappelli. Worried about fellow children homeless in a foreign land, she brought them paper and pens to pass the time.

Romanian PM Faces No Confidence Vote

Romania's parliament has begun to debate a vote of no confidence against the prime minister, a week after he went on trial for corruption charges.
Premier Victor Ponta is on trial on charges of tax evasion, money laundering, conflict of interest and making false statements while he was working as a lawyer in 2007 and 2008. He denies wrongdoing.
He is likely to survive Tuesday's vote, as the opposition has been unable to muster sufficient support.
President Klaus Iohannis has urged Ponta to resign, saying his refusal has undermined Romania's anti-corruption drive.
Ponta argues that Romania's economy has recovered during his tenure and his dismissal would bring political instability.
He became prime minister in 2012.

Joblessness Rising in China as Economy Slows

A state-owned Chinese coal company recently announced layoffs for 100,000 workers over the next three months, the biggest single job cut in China in years. But the layoff, despite its size, is just a snapshot of the emerging problem of joblessness that China faces as the world's second largest economy continues to slow.

Geoffrey Crothall, communications director at the Hong Kong-based China Labor Bulletin said a lot of workers will be laid off across industries and regions.

“We’ve seen similar layoffs in the steel industry and other heavy industries, so I think as the economy slows down in China, particularly the state owned sector struggles to make profits inevitably, we will see more layoffs,” he said.

Last week, state media reported that Longmay Mining Group, a coal company in northeastern China’s Heilongjiang province, which employs about 240,000, was cutting its workforce nearly in half. Longmay’s chairman Wang Zhikui has told state media that the decision to cut the workforce was made to “stop bleeding” the company, which is facing severe debt problems.

Strikes, social strife

As companies have laid off workers, that has led to strikes. In some cases thousands of workers have protested job cuts at steel and other heavy machinery factories in recent months, analysts said.

China’s southern Guangdong Province, a key hub for Chinese exports and manufacturing, has seen widespread layoffs as companies struggle with falling sales and restructuring initiated by the government, said Li Hsiang Hong, a program coordinator at Asia Monitor Resource Center.

“There is a trend of job layoffs and we think the government needs to pay special attention to this issue,” Li said, explaining that thousands of dismissals are taking place in export-oriented industries like toys and textiles in southern China.

The government is transferring some types of manufacturing from big and medium sized cities to smaller towns and in the process, the companies are shedding thousands of workers, Li said.

Part of the shift is aimed at moving polluting industries away from major cities, but it also seeks to relocate industries that have seen social strife and occupational diseases among workers.

“They think that moving all of those factories can also help them to relieve these kinds of growing conflict and problems in the cities,” Li said.

Tough transitions

Industry analysts said the slowdown in commodity prices and growing concern about pollution is likely to force other coal companies to go for layoffs in the months to come, analysts said.

“Most industries that are facing layoffs are those are less competitive or heavily polluting enterprises such as coal mining and other sunset industries,” said Hu Xingdou, economics professor at the Beijing Institute of Technology.

The Chinese government avoids public discussion of the unemployment problem and state media recently said that new employment continues to grow at a rate higher than the targeted annual growth rate, even as the economy continues to contract.

But more than the numbers, analysts said it is more a question of how layoffs are managed.

China Labor Bulletin’s Geoffrey Crothall said the employment market would continue to suffer from considerable fluctuations.

“It is just a question of what provision will be made for them in that process and what opportunities are available to them for re-employment,” he said. “It is very difficult to make any predictions in that regard.”

Analysts said that as the economy has slowed and exports plunged, companies have also opted for large-scale wage cuts and there are widespread complaints and protests in some cases because workers have not been adequately compensated when they are let go.

Longmay’s chairman Wang Zhikui has said that the cuts for the company will come in the form of layoffs, early retirements and job placement. Analysts said the fast-growing service sector could provide opportunities for many fired younger workers, but older laid off employees may not be able to manage the transition as well.

Amid Europe's Migrant Tensions, Kindness Arises Too Amid Europe's Migrant Tensions, Kindness Arises Too Reviewed by Ajit Kumar on 7:31 PM Rating: 5

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