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German actor Til Schweiger has defended his vocal support for a new, state-of-the-art refugee center to house families arriving to seek asylum in Germany.
Schweiger has been widely criticized by mainstream and social media here after wading into the immigration debate. He has begun raising money to convert an abandoned military barracks near the Harz Mountains into a center for refugees, who have been arriving in record numbers over the past year, most fleeing conflicts in Syria, Afghanistan and Eritrea. The actor, who has appeared in U.S. features including Inglourious Basterds and This Means War, has also announced plans to set up a foundation to support traumatized children — both new war refugees and those living in Germany.
While many have welcomed the actor’s activism — “I get stopped every day by people who congratulate and thank me,” he tells The Hollywood Reporter — Schweiger has also received a torrent of online abuse and public mocking.
The actor said the trolling started with a recent Facebook post, in which called on people to donate clothes for refugee families.
“It kicked off a shitstorm,” says Schweiger. “People attacked me with the nastiest, most xenophobic and racist comments I’d ever seen. It was really the dark, ugly side of Germany coming up.”
The online attacked ratcheted up after Schweiger announced his support for the new refugee center, which he hopes will be a “showcase project” that will serve as a model for the entire country.
The number of refugees coming to Germany this year is expected to more than double to 450,000. Since the current migration crisis began, Germany has taken in the largest number of refugees, by a wide margin, of any European country and has taken in the second-highest number per capita after Sweden.
This past weekend Schweiger met with German vice chancellor Sigmar Gabriel to discuss his plans for a privately-financed refugee center and will meet with state and regional politicians in the coming days. The goal is to have the center, which could house 600 refugees, up and running by the end of the year.
Schweiger has called on his fellow celebrities to be more vocal in their support of migrants. He contrasts the situation with the early 1990s, when Germany’s biggest film and music stars held concerts and rallies to protest rising neo-Nazi violence against refugees.
“That’s the big difference with now,” says Schweiger. “The public support (in Germany) for refugees now is higher than it was back then but you don’t see that in the media: it is all negative.”
Speaking on German TV Thursday, Schweiger dismissed claims he is using the immigration debate as a way to garner positive PR. “I’m the most successful filmmaker in the country, what do I need PR for?” Schweiger told Dunja Hayali, host of talkshow Donnerstalk on public broadcaster ZDF. “I’m happy when my name’s not in the paper.”
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