Accident in the Mediterranean

Shock and horror over refugee tragedy

Chancellor Angela Merkel was deeply shocked to hear of the latest refugee disaster, stressed federal government spokesperson Steffen Seibert. Angela Merkel, he said, had already consulted with Italy’s Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. The EU ministers of foreign affairs and ministers of the interior are meeting today in Luxembourg.

Refugees cling to a capsized vessel in the Mediterranean

Horror as more refugees drown in the Mediterranean

Photo: Opielok Offshore Carriers/dpa

"Like millions of Germans the Chancellor was horrified to hear that another refugee boat had capsized," said federal government spokesperson Steffen Seibert on Monday (20 April 2015) in Berlin. The German government now aims to take further steps: Chancellor Angela Merkel has already spoken by telephone with Italy’s Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, reported Steffen Seibert. And today the EU ministers of the interior and ministers of foreign affairs will be discussing the refugee boat disaster and possible consequences in Luxembourg. Federal Interior Minister Thomas de Maizìere and Federal Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier will be attending.

Apparently several hundred people, including women and children, drowned when a boat packed with refugees capsized in the Mediterranean in the early hours of Sunday morning. The previous week hundreds of refugees attempting to make the crossing from Libya to Italy had already drowned. More boats were in distress on Monday. One vessel sank off the coast of the Greek island of Rhodes. Every year thousands of people set off across the Mediterranean for Europe. In 2014 alone the official figures recorded 3,500 lives lost at sea.

At the government press conference, Steffen Seibert stressed, "These men, women and children set off for Europe in despair, perhaps also hopeful of a better life. It is tragic that they have died in this way. The fact that incidents like this occur with depressing regularity in the Mediterranean is not worthy of Europe."

Something must be done - in Europe and in Libya

In view of the refugee crisis, continued Steffen Seibert, two questions must be asked: "What can and must we do to prevent any repetition of disasters of this sort at sea?" And, "What can we do in Libya and how can we influence Libya?" Currently human traffickers in Libya have "carte blanche for their criminal activities", said Steffen Seibert.

Shock and dismay

"Every death is one too many. Every individual case a terrible fate," said Federal Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière on Sunday (19 April 2015) when the news broke of another shipwreck. "A heinous crime of this sort calls for a European response. It is a question of saving human lives, fighting organised smuggler gangs and stabilising the region. There are no simple answers," said Thomas de Maizière.

"There can be no question. What we have once again seen today in the Mediterranean is another tragedy. The images are intolerable," said Federal Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier in the current affairs programme "Bericht aus Berlin" shown on German television.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier wants to see stability in Libya

Federal Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier stressed how the people must have suffered before ever embarking on the ship. The risks involved in undertaking the crossing in vessels that are barely seaworthy are almost unbearable. Frank-Walter Steinmeier pointed to two things which he believes are particularly important at this time. "We must attempt to bring Libya greater stability." The aim is to see a government of national unity in place. Only stability can improve the refugee situation. Secondly, action must be taken against the traffickers and a crackdown is need on people trafficking organisations, he declared.

Fighting gangs of traffickers

Federal Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière sees "fighting gangs of traffickers as pivotal". There are few remaining state structures in Libya, and traffickers exploit this vacuum. Criminal gangs of people traffickers earn huge sums by promising to get people to and across the Mediterranean. They then abandon the people on board to their fate. Thomas de Maizière counts on greater international cooperation. "Inside Europol we have put in place a separate investigation unit, and we are already seeing the first successes. We cannot and will not tolerate these criminals sacrificing huge numbers of human lives to satisfy their lust for profit."

No country can solve the refugee problem alone. What is needed is not only a common European strategy, but also better dovetailing of foreign policy, domestic policy and development policy inside and among member states, and with the countries of origin of the refugees and the transit states they pass through, said Thomas de Maizière.

Federal Government Commissioner for Integration calls for swift action

Aydan Özoguz, the Federal Government Commissioner for Integration, declared herself "appalled". On her Facebook page she wrote, "The fact that once again so many people have lost their lives en route to Europe is a desperately poor testimony for all of us. We cannot afford to waste any more time." There are good reasons to fear that as the weather gets warmer over the next few weeks and months the numbers of those seeking refuge on the other side of the Mediterranean will swell further, according to the Federal Government Commissioner for Integration.