Kuwait, 13 May 2003 Press release

"Bridge of humanity" to Austria for Iraqi children


First transfer of ten wounded Iraqi children scheduled for Thursday, 15 May

Kuwait, 13 May 2003 - On her visit to Kuwait with the relief organisation "Humanitarian Operations Center" (HOC), responsible for the coordination of humanitarian activities in the south of Iraq, Austrian Foreign Minister Benita Ferrero-Waldner has made provisions for the first transfer of Iraqi children to Austria. These are children from the south of Iraq who require immediate medical aid and have to be brought to Austria because the necessary surgery cannot be carried out in Iraq and all other sources of adequate medical treatment in their native country have been exhausted.

"With this project we are building a bridge of humanity. Austria was in no way involved in the Iraq war, therefore this relief measure puts Austria in a position to assume an objective though sympathetic and helpful attitude. Austria is now giving these children help and the experience of peace, safety and healing," Ferrero-Waldner said in Kuwait today.

The Austrian Foreign Minister emphasised that Austria's smoothly functioning medical system is able to achieve excellent medical results. "Severe wounds, burns and other major injuries may have lasting and extreme effects on these children's lives. These children will now be restored to health in Austria. I don't want to see all these horrible and ineradicable pictures any longer - children without arms or legs, children with wounds that will maim them for life," Ferrero-Waldner said.

Already since the beginning of 2003, Ferrero-Waldner has been making efforts - in cooperation with the Red Cross, Caritas and the HOC relief organisation and supported by the Austrian broadcasting cooperation ORF and the daily paper Kronenzeitung - to bring Iraqi children to Austria to give them adequate medical aid. In talks with representatives of the federal provinces, especially the province governors Klasnic (Styria) and Schausberger (Salzburg), the Foreign Minister together with Health Minister Rauch-Kallat has been able to make available 50 hospital beds in Austria for wounded Iraqi children. In the past few weeks, Ferrero-Waldner together with Vice-Chancellor Haupt and Health Minister Rauch-Kallat also organised the transfer of the children to Austria.

On 15 May, the first Iraqi children will be brought from Kuwait by specially equipped aircraft and, accompanied by Foreign Minister Ferrero-Waldner, will be landing in Vienna in the early afternoon. One of the children will be taken to the Lorenz Böhler accident and emergency hospital in Vienna, four children with severe burns will be treated at the Central Hospital of the Province of Styria in Graz and three children will be taken to the Central Hospital of the Province of Salzburg. The Ministry of Health is still looking for a hospital able to offer adequate treatment to another two children with severe injuries. The Red Cross is assuming responsibility for the transfer of the children from the airport to the respective hospitals.

Each of the children will be accompanied by a close relative (father, mother, uncle or aunt). Provision has been made for their accommodation at the respective hospitals in Austria. Austrian doctors will be attending to the children during the flight.

"In Jordan, King Abdullah told me about a small Iraqi girl, Yasmin, who was taken to a specialist clinic in Kuala Lumpur on a Jordanian aircraft last week. A bomb fragment had ripped off both of the girl's legs just below the knee and Iraqi hospitals were unable to offer anything like adequate treatment. This shows how important it is that we take up these rescue flights right now. This type of help is extremely urgent. The children in the Iraq never had a chance to influence their destiny. It was never in their power to determine in which country and under which leadership they wanted to live. They are the innocent victims of this war. They are the ones who really suffer," Ferrero-Waldner concluded.