Vienna, 23 July 2003 – Five Iraqi children who have been receiving medical treatment in Austria over the past few weeks set off on their journey home to Iraq early this morning, accompanied by members of their families. At Vienna-Schwechat Airport Minister for Foreign Affairs Benita Ferrero-Waldner and State Secretary for Health and Women's Affairs Reinhart Waneck bid farewell to the children and their travelling companions, who were flown to Austria from Iraq in May this year under the auspices of the Austrian relief mission for war-damaged children. At a press conference held in the VIP Suite at Vienna International Airport after the group's departure, State Secretary Waneck reported on the medical condition of the children, who had undergone microsurgery and skin transplants at hospitals in Graz, Salzburg and Vienna.
Foreign Minister Ferrero-Waldner pointed out that Austria had already continued its tradition of great commitment to humanitarian relief missions by bringing sick and wounded Iraqi children to Austria for medical treatment after the Gulf War back in 1990/91, adding that it was already self-evident to her in the early stages of the recent war in Iraq that Austria would once again participate in the humanitarian assistance measures. As Chair of the Human Security Network (HSN), a group of states spanning all continents, Ferrero-Waldner had defined the fate of children in armed conflicts as a priority issue at the conference of HSN foreign ministers which she had hosted in Graz in May this year.
"In my capacity as Chair of the Human Security Network and Austrian Foreign Minister, it was thus an obvious step for me to take up the cause of the Iraqi children in need", stated the Foreign Minister. "During my visit to Kuwait I personally co-organised the transport of the children from Southern Iraq and accompanied them on their flight to Vienna. All of the children who were flown out to Austria for medical treatment had either suffered severe war wounds or would scarcely have had a chance of survival in Iraq without adequate medical treatment. After their successful treatment in Austria the first five children are now ready to set out on their journey home. In Austria these children have experienced peace, security and healing, and I should like to take this opportunity to express my sincere thanks to the hospitals, doctors and nurses for their outstanding achievements. This Austrian relief mission has demonstrated that it is possible to provide help for the innocent victims of the war in Iraq." Ferrero-Waldner said she was delighted at the great sympathy, understanding and support received from aid organisations and the Austrian population. "The Austrian 'Bridge of Humanity" is working!" declared the Foreign Minister, adding that Austria would continue to participate in the humanitarian assistance measures for Iraq and in the reconstruction of the country through cooperation between the government ministries, the aid organisations and the international organisations.
In this context the Minister for Foreign Affairs mentioned two concrete projects that will be implemented in the coming months: a Trauma Centre near Baghdad, which is being built by Austria with logistical support from Jordan and expert assistance from a psycho-social therapy centre in Slovenia and will start operations as soon as this September, and a further hospital project in Iraq. A mission consisting of representatives of the Federal Ministry for Foreign Affairs and the Federal Ministry for Health and Women's Affairs, a representative of CARITAS and a hospital technology expert will be travelling to the city of Nasiriyah in Southern Iraq in connection with this project. Acting on the basis of a resolution by the Council of Ministers of 27 June 2003 which holds out the prospect of Austrian involvement in measures to being hospitals in Iraq back into operation, the delegation will be tasked with surveying the state of the medical and technical facilities at the hospitals in question and identifying concrete opportunities for the provision of Austrian support.