German film director and actor Til Schweiger has announced plans to convert a former barracks into a refugee home in central Germany. The award-winning filmmaker has persistently called for more empathy for refugees.
Schweiger told German Sunday paper "Bild am Sontag" that he and a group of friends bought the former barracks in Osterode am Harz in the state of Lower Saxony at the beginning of 2014.
"We want to build a flagship refugee home. And I'm going to establish a charity for traumatized children," the actor said.
The planned home will provide leisure activities for children, a sports facility, workshops and a sewing room, so that people can work.
The state of Lower Saxony had already wanted to open an initial reception point for refugees at the barracks in June. According to the state's interior ministry, the contracts had not yet been signed.
Asked about his motivation behind the project, Schweiger - best known internationally for his roles in "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" and "Inglorious Basterds" - said he was previously "at odds" with his role as an actor.
"I just fooled around in front of the camera and earned money for it. Every policeman, every soldier, every nurse - they all do more for society. I just rent my face," the 51-year-old explained.
Schweiger said that it was his role as a director, however, which had enable him to do something that was "socially relevant."
Call for more empathy
Schweiger's support for refugees has become well-publicized across German media in recent weeks.
Just last month, the director's Facebook page was inundated with racist comments after he posted a link to the "Hamburger Abendblatt" newspaper, which called on locals to donate clothing and bedding to refugees.
What ensued was a heated debate over refugees between some 1,400 Facebook users. The actor later stepped in and asked in not so uncertain terms for the xenophobes among them to leave his page.
Schweiger has called on several occasions for more empathy from the German public.
"I don't understand that people in Germany can go out onto the streets out of fear over Islamization and radicalization, and at the same time not help people who are fleeing from exactly that," the director said.
Germany has seen record numbers of asylum seekers in recent years. The Federal Office for Migrants and Refugees (BAMF) expects to receive as many as 600,000 asylum applications in 2015 - almost three times the number of last year.
Since January, violent incidents against refugee accommodation or planned homes have also increased significantly. Officials recorded 202 attacks in the first six months of this year alone - the same amount as there were in the entirety of 2014.
ksb/jlw (dpa, AFP, epd)