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German soccer clubs, fans rush to support migrants

By Ciaran Fahey, Associated Press | Posted - Sep. 3, 2015 at 11:32 a.m.

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BERLIN (AP) — A training camp for migrant children. A $1.1 million donation. German lessons.

Those are a few of the things German soccer club Bayern Munich is doing to help some of the thousands of migrants who are arriving in the country after fleeing war and poverty in Syria and other troubled nations.

Other German soccer teams have also been at the forefront in preaching acceptance of the new arrivals.

"At a difficult time for these people, this is a small contribution to distract from daily life," German club Mainz said on its website after inviting migrants to attend matches.

Bayern appears to be leading the way, however. The club, among the biggest and richest in Europe, said Thursday it would donate 1 million euros ($1.1 million) to refugee projects and put on a training camp that would give children and adolescents German lessons, meals, and soccer equipment.

And at their next home game on Sept. 12, the team's star players will walk out onto the field holding hands with a German child on one side and a migrant child on the other.

Bayern said it would be "a symbol for the integration of refugees."

Germany is witnessing an unprecedented surge of asylum seekers this year. About 800,000 migrants are expected to arrive in 2015, a fourfold increase from last year, and soccer supporters have long been displaying messages of solidarity. Banners with "Refugees welcome" have been a common sight at Bundesliga games.

More than 2,000 migrants arrived by train in Munich on Tuesday, when police said they were "overwhelmed" by donations from residents.

Germany's national team, which won the World Cup in Brazil last year, has also gotten involved. Jerome Boateng, Ilkay Gundogan, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Mesut Ozil and Toni Kroos appeared in a video Wednesday to promote respect and tolerance.

Mainz invited 200 migrants to last week's game, and 400 more are expected for the club's next home game on Sept. 18. Second-division club Bielefeld made 500 tickets available for its home game against Heidenheim. According to the club, all were snapped up within two hours.

In Dortmund, where the club has been involved in a long-running battle against far-right extremism among some of its own supporters, some fans have been welcoming migrants for years. The club recently invited 220 migrants from the local "Angekommen" (Arrived) support initiative to watch a Europa League qualifier against Norwegian club Odds BK.

While many migrants looking for a better life are attracted to Dortmund, set in the heartland of the industrial Ruhr area, the city also serves as a focal point for neo-Nazis in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

The club, Borussia Dortmund, has taken several measures to curb right-wing violence and promote tolerance, including its "No Beer for Racists" campaign. The club has also countered the suggestion that Germany can't afford any more migrants.

"Germany is one of the largest and most prosperous countries in Europe," Dortmund wrote on its website. "If you put the asylum applications in relation to the population, Germany is only 10th on the list within Europe."

Rival Bundesliga clubs Hannover and Schalke, and lower-level teams including Fortuna Duesseldorf and Dynamo Dresden, have also taken part in initiatives for migrants. And the generosity isn't restricted to football - handball team HSG Wetzlar made 100 tickets available to migrants for each of its first two home league games of the season.

Babelsberg, a third-division soccer club based in Berlin, founded a team made entirely of migrants last year. "Welcome United," as the fan-funded team is called, will play its first season in Berlin's lower league this year.

"We want people to be welcome, regardless of why they had to leave their homes," Babelsberg says. "We believe every human being can be an asset to society."

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Ciaran Fahey


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