Nobody flees without duress!

Neuruppin, 22 June 2017

Tankred Stöbe (Médecins sans frontières) visited the Brandenburg Medical School on Wednesday. In the ceremonial hall of the Ruppiner Kliniken he gave a lecture to students and staff of MHB and the clinics as well as interested members of the public on current global migratory movements and the challenges involved. This was his first stay in Neuruppin. He started his lecture which primarily addressed his latest relief project in Libya with two striking statements he frequently reads in the media: 1. “In Africa, hundreds of thousands are sitting on packed bags, just waiting for an opportunity to come to Europe”. 2. “We cannot be expected to take in all refugees.”

Based on his personal knowledge of many stories and individual fates, Stöbe spoke of major failure in politics as well as in medical care. Refugee flows are a global phenomenon but, so Stöbe, the situation of people fleeing to Europe across the Mediterranean is particularly dramatic. From 7,495 people who died worldwide on the run in 2016, 5,079 lost their lives in the Mediterranean according to a conservative estimate; statistics register only the bodies taken out of the sea or found on beaches or reported by eye witnesses. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) counts over 1,800 this year, an average of eleven per day. Stöbe also pointed out that more than 80 % of refugees worldwide live in neighbouring countries and try to stay near to their home region as long as possible.

Libya holds a key position in the current refugee crisis as a transit country for migrants as well as refugees. While migrants generally stay in Libya and plan to return to their home countries sooner or later, the latter seek opportunities to cross the Mediterranean to Italy or Europe. Stöbe describes the camps in Libya as intolerable: “Those who fled from war, persecution, torture and miserable poverty have almost no chance to reach Europe. Nobody flees without extreme duress! But the ten countries which receive the largest numbers of refugees worldwide are all outside Europe. Those who survive desert crossings, torture and rape in Libya, who do not starve in the camps or catch severe diseases due to a lack of sanitary facilities, often see the crossing of the Mediterranean as the last resort, even if our continent shuts the doors. The Fortress Europe appears to find only one single political consensus: to keep refugees out.”

Since May 2015 his organization has been saving shipwrecked persons off the coast of Libya with three salvage vessels. Stöbe rejects all accusations that Médecins sans frontières and other relief groups just play into the hands of trafficking gangs as cynical and unfounded: “Many sad individual cases clearly document that traffickers have no interest whatsoever in the fate of refugees, no matter whether these reach their destination or die on the way there.”

Médecins sans frontières have assisted more than 65,000 shipwrecked persons to date, and every day there are more. But governments are not persistent enough in pursuing political targets stated in European consensus, such as addressing root causes of migration and fighting the gangs of traffickers: “State actors often fail in their responsibilities. The priority should be to save lives and alleviate the suffering of refugees. This includes the installation of legal and safe migration routes and a European distribution system based on solidarity. It is time for Europe to take down the invisible walls it has erected and do more to address the humanitarian crisis of migration,” so Stöbe.

Prior to the lecture Tankred Stöbe met first-year medical students for a seminar on how to train to become a humanitarian physician. A first step was the definition of humanitarian aid and its operating principles. Students then had detailed questions about missions in crisis areas and the requirements involved. They wanted to hear how physicians cope with foreign cultures and medical interventions under often primitive conditions, and what it means to work in a dangerous environment and far away from home and family.

Juri Habicht, MHB medical student and co-organizer, was highly pleased to have won Stöbe for both events: “Based on his long history with Médecins sans frontiers, Tankred Stöbe can give authentic impressions and comprehensive background information on the current medical and political situation of people threatened by war, destruction and persecution. He described various missions with his organization and practical ways to implement humanitarian aid on site. In view of existing close contacts between refugees and MHB students and staff and also members of the Ruppiner Kliniken, events like these which provide details on future developments in crisis areas are interesting and informative in many respects.”

Tankred Stöbe studied medicine in Greifswald and Witten. He joined Médecins sans frontiers more than fifteen years ago and has been active in the organization ever since. He served as president of their German section between 2007 and 2015 in addition to clinical work in internal and emergency medicine. In June 2015 he was elected to the international board at the organization’s general assembly in Barcelona. For many years he has provided humanitarian aid in numerous areas of crisis, conflict and disaster, primarily in Asia and Africa, often risking his own life. In 2016 the German Medical Association honoured him with the Paracelsus Medal, the most prestigious award among German physicians.

Tankred Stöbe in conversation with MHB medical students