Austrian Foreign Minister Kurz attacks work of sea rescuers – they react with dismay.

– Every day private aid workers rescue refugees in the Mediterranean;
– Austrian Foreign Minister Kurz harshly criticises the commitment of the sea rescuers;
– His absurd reasoning: their work causes more refugees to die in the Mediterranean.

For many refugees the Mediterranean has turned into a wet grave. Including last Friday. After several shipwrecks hundreds of people are feared dead. But in spite of new tragedies, Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz attacks private sea rescue workers sharply.

“The NGO madness must be stopped,” he said in Malta while visiting the Frontex mission. The work of the volunteers caused more refugees to die at sea rather than less. Many organisations had made themselves partners of the traffickers. Kurz’ statement is on the same line with a recent attack by Fabrice Leggeri, the Chief of the EU border protection agency.

“Kurz accepts the death of human beings. That is cynical and uncivilised,” says Hans-Peter Buschheuer of the sea rescue organisation Sea-Eye. He emphasizes: “We are an exclusively humanitarian organisation, we rescue people in distress.”

The transport of the rescued people to the European mainland is done by the navy and other governmental agencies –  “with the participation of the Austrian state, by the way,” Buschheuer clarifies.

The Managing Director of Doctors without Borders Austria, Mario Thaler, also considers Kurz’ statements “outrageous.” Kurz’ criticism of the aid workers was even more shocking, “when one realises what it presumes. Are we supposed to let the people drown?” he asks.

Thaler underlines that Kurz’ reproach and his proposals bear witness to an entirely wrong idea of the rescue operations in the Mediterranean and bear no relation to reality.

Anton Shakouri agrees. He is currently working on a ship belonging to the NGO SOS Méditerranée. He doubts that the rescuers are an encouraging factor for the refugees: “None of the people we rescued knew that there are NGO ships at sea to help.” SOS Méditerranée rescue the refugees 25 to 35 nautical miles off the coast. “That is too far to even be considered by the traffickers,” Shakouri explained to Huffington Post.

According to the NGO Jugend rettet, 559 people have already drowned this year on the central Mediterranean route. In 2016, a total of 5,098 people lost their lives.

Kurz’ attempt is also hard to understand because it was NGOs that were called last Thursday to a place about 14 nautical miles off the Libyan coast in order to rescue people in distress. They only found five dead bodies. On Friday they found a sixth body.

“Given the fact that these rubber boats are usually overcrowded with 120 to 130 people, we fear that the real number of victims is much higher and that dozens of people lost their lives in the incident,” the UN refugee agency UNHCR informed.

“Yesterday’s massacre reminds us that a tragedy is taking place in the Mediterranean and confirms that sea rescue is indispensable,” Flavio Di Giacomo, the spokesperson of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) twittered. According to him it is being investigated whether the Libyan coast guard has rescued the migrants.

Tragic boat disasters “serve politicians like Kurz really well for deterrence,” comments Sea Watch Director Axel Grafmanns soberly. His NGO also rescues refugees in distress.

But rescue capacities are at their limit this spring. It shows “that the EU has not learned anything from the boat disasters of the past years. The next major incident is only a question of time,” prophesied Sea Watch Chief Operations, Martin Taminiau on Monday.

Unfortunately he was proved right.

Source: Huffington Post, Germany

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