Austria's Sebastian Kurz wants to use EU border guards in Africa

In an effort to stop migrants from crossing the Mediterranean, Austria's chancellor has said EU border patrol guards should be sent to northern Africa. Sebastian Kurz has made cracking down on immigration a priority.

Frontex border control agents should be allowed to operate in northern Africa in order to prevent further migration to Europe, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said in an interview with German newspaper Welt am Sonntag,published on Sunday.

Kurz's comments appeared to foreshadow the Austrian government's plans for when it takes over the EU Presidency for six months starting in July.

Read moreFollow the money: What are the EU's migration policy priorities?

What Kurz proposed:

  • Kurz said Frontex needs "a clear political mandate" with the governments of northern African countries that would allow EU border guards to operate there.
  • He added that the mandate should give agents the ability to "end the dirty business model of human traffickers and to prevent smuggler boats from even setting out on the dangerous journey over the Mediterranean."
  • Frontex employees should also "stop illegal migrants on the external borders, tend to them, and then ideally send them immediately back to their home country or transit country, the conservative Austrian leader said.
  • He supports the European Commission's plan to boost the number of Frontex border guards by 10,000 by the year 2027. He took issue however with the timeline, saying the personnel boost "has to happen much faster."
NGO ship rescues Europe-bound migrants in Mediterranean

First on site

At around 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, March 31, the search-and-rescue vessel Aquarius, along with the Libyan coast guard, was alerted by the Italian Rescue Maritime Coordination Center (IMRCC) that a rubber boat was in distress in international waters. Aquarius is manned by rescue workers from SOS Mediteranee, medics from Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and a nautical and technical crew.

NGO ship rescues Europe-bound migrants in Mediterranean

People in distress

Aquarius made first contact with the rubber boat in international waters at around 11:00 a.m. Soon after, the SOS head coordinator was informed by IMRCC that the Libyan coastguard would take charge of the rescue operation. As people in the overcrowded rubber boat, visibly in distress, waved frantically, Aquarius was instructed to standby and wait for further instructions.

NGO ship rescues Europe-bound migrants in Mediterranean

Helping hand

Two hours later, and with no Libyan coastguard in sight, the Aquarius was able to convince the IMRCC and the Libyans to allow them to rescue children, women and families. They evacuated 39 vulnerable people. They had to leave the remaining 80-90 men on the rubber boat to the Libyan coastguard. The Aquarius has the capacity to carry 500 rescued people.

NGO ship rescues Europe-bound migrants in Mediterranean

All in it together

MSF nurse Sylvie was on board the Aquarius' fast-speed rescue boat, whose personnel identified medical and vulnerable cases later evacuated to the NGO ship. Over the course of three missions, the staff saved 292 people from more than 20 countries, the majority from sub-Saharan Africa. Besides showing signs of dehydration, exhaustion and weakness, some also displayed signs of physical abuse.

NGO ship rescues Europe-bound migrants in Mediterranean

Having fun

As parents rested on the ship's deck, MSF logistician Francois took a moment to interact with the newly arrived children. Those rescued got a chance to bond with the ship's crew as well as to express themselves in safe and secure surroundings.

NGO ship rescues Europe-bound migrants in Mediterranean

Doctor's orders

Dr. Dan from California gave each new arrival a check-up to see whether anyone was in need of urgent medical care. Once on land, those rescued are examined by local medical staff in Italy.

NGO ship rescues Europe-bound migrants in Mediterranean

Holding tight in rough weather

As the vessel pitched and rolled in strong winds, SOS Mediteranee team member Theo cuddled a child rescued the day before. "As a seaman it's your duty to save anybody in distress," he said. "We all shed tears yesterday. I had a baby and children in my arms. We helped some women. What's the most important is to get all these out people out of the water, to save them and for them to survive."

NGO ship rescues Europe-bound migrants in Mediterranean

Thanking the Lord

As the Aquarius approached the Sicilian city of Messina, the designated Italian port of safety, many of the rescued women began singing French and English gospel songs praising the Lord and thanking him for safe passage across the Mediterranean Sea.

NGO ship rescues Europe-bound migrants in Mediterranean

On terra firma

Francois personally helped all 292 men, women and children disembark. "Emotionally it was really hard, because once the last guy stepped out on shore, it was over. I could just call everyone and say disembarkation successfully finished, and then I felt empty."

NGO ship rescues Europe-bound migrants in Mediterranean

Thank-you kiss

These lucky people made it to Europe. According to international NGOs figures, between 750,000 and 900,000 immigrants and asylum-seekers remain trapped in Libya, whose migrant detention centers the UN has called inhumane. Many see merely one way out: to attempt to cross one of the world's most deadly seas in rubber dinghies that can only be considered floating death traps.

'I am very worried:' Kurz also told the paper that he doesn't think EU-wide quotas to more evenly distribute refugees around the 28-member bloc are realistic. He also said he's concerned about the in-fighting in Europe, saying: "In the EU, there are always morally superior people who think they have to educate the others. I'm very worried about that."

What is Frontex? Frontex is the European Union's boarder and coast guard agency. It patrols the border of the European Schengen Area and is headquartered in Warsaw, Poland.

Read moreAustria shifts further to the right with hardline asylum policy

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02:46 mins.
DW News | 23.05.2018

Migrants in Italy wary of new government's agenda

EU quota 'compromise:' The European Commission pushed through temporary refugee quotas in 2015 when hundreds of thousands of people fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa came to Europe. Some 900,000 asylum-seekers entered Germany that year alone. Eastern European countries have either refused or resisted taking in people seeking asylum.

Bulgaria, who currently has the rotating EU Council Presidency, floated a compromise wherein mandatory redistribution quotas should only go into effect in the event of another large flow of migrants, like the one seen in 2015.

Kurz's alliance with far-right: The Austrian chancellor's conservatives formed a coalition government with the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ) in December. His government has taken a hardline stance on immigration and asylum-seekers.

Young heads of government or state – Sebastian Kurz is not alone

Sebastian Kurz, Austria

Sebastian Kurz, the leader of the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP), is not the only youthful politician on the scene: In recent years there have been several national leaders who did not correspond to the classic image of the elder statesman at the time they took office.

Young heads of government or state – Sebastian Kurz is not alone

Mario Frick, Liechtenstein

In December 1993 Frick became prime minister of Liechtenstein at just 28 years old – the youngest head of government in the world. He presided over the fate of the world’s sixth-smallest country for more than seven years, until April 2001. An attorney by profession, Frick subsequently served as president of the Liechtenstein Bar Association from 2005 to 2014.

Young heads of government or state – Sebastian Kurz is not alone

Pandeli Majko, Albania

Majko, who recently became Albania’s Minister of State for Diaspora, served as the Albanian prime minister from September 1998 to October 1999, and again from February to July 2002. When he first took office in 1998 he was just 30 years old. Majko’s political career started very early, with his election to the Albanian parliament in 1992.

Young heads of government or state – Sebastian Kurz is not alone

Igor Luksic, Montenegro

The Montenegrin foreign minister from 2012 to 2016, Igor Luksic from the Democratic Party of Socialists of Montenegro was prime minister of his country from 2010 to 2012, and was aged 34 when he assumed office. Prior to this, from 2004 onwards, he served as his country’s finance minister — a job he was given when he was not yet 30.

Young heads of government or state – Sebastian Kurz is not alone

Benazir Bhutto, Pakistan

In 1998, Benazir Bhutto became the first woman to win a free election in an Islamic country. She was sworn in as prime minister of Pakistan on 2 December 1988, at the age of 35. Bhutto held the office until 1990, then again from 1993 to 1996. From 1999 to 2007 she lived in exile in Dubai. She was assassinated on 27 December 2007, two weeks before again contesting the parliamentary elections.

Young heads of government or state – Sebastian Kurz is not alone

Viktor Orban, Hungary

The current prime minister of Hungary, who is renowned for his anti-refugee policies, held the office once before, from 1998 to 2002. Orban, the leader and co-founder of the national-conservative Fidesz party, was 35 years old when he was first elected.

Young heads of government or state – Sebastian Kurz is not alone

Atifete Jahjaga, Kosovo

Jahjaga was president of Kosovo from 2011 to 2016, becoming the first woman to head the Kosovar government. At 36, she was also the youngest person elected to that office in the country. The minimum age for candidates is 35.

Young heads of government or state – Sebastian Kurz is not alone

Emmanuel Macron, France

On May 7, 2017 Emmanuel Macron won the second round of the presidential election against the French nationalist Marine Le Pen, becoming the youngest-ever president of France at the age of 39. Prior to this, from 2014 to 2016, he was the minister of the economy under socialist President Francois Hollande.

Young heads of government or state – Sebastian Kurz is not alone

Youssef Chahed, Tunisia

Chahed, the current prime minister of Tunisia, was 40 years old when he took office. He held various posts in the country’s first democratically elected government from 2015 onwards, under Prime Minister Habib Essid. After Essid lost a parliamentary vote of confidence, the Tunisian president eventually proposed Chahed as the new prime minister, and he assumed the office on 27 August 2016.

rs/ng (dpa, Reuters)

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