The head of the German Protestant Church has received death threats for his plans to float a Church-sponsored ship to rescue refugees in the Mediterranean.

Driving the news

“Especially in relation to my participation in the maritime rescue of refugees, I have received quite specific threats. I do not take them very seriously,” Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, bishop of the state of Bavaria, told the newspaper Augsburger Allgemeine.

Bedford-Strohm defended the plans of the German Evangelical Church.

“This has nothing to do with political activism, but with the core of Christian belief and action”, he said.

He added that “the Church and its social work have an overall policy to support people in need, which of course also includes fighting against the root causes of migration”.

Go deeper

Bedford-Strohm made reference to the fact that Interior Minister Horst Seehofer is dealing with the issue of a mechanism for the distribution of migrants at the European level.

“I strongly support [Seehofer] in his project to obtain the support and commitment of other countries on this issue.

“However, we cannot wait idly until Europe has reached an agreement: we must act now. We are responsible for sea rescue”, the bishop insisted.

“But it is not just about a ship. It is about supporting civilian sea rescue as long as the European states feel no obligation to save people”, Bedford-Strohm emphasised.

“Actually, it is a state task. State sea rescue must finally be resumed. And there must finally be a functioning distribution mechanism for refugees in Europe”.

Why it matters

Plans for the alliance for maritime rescue initiated by the EKD and called “United4Rescue” were presented in early December.

The organisers of the Church-sponsored relief effort explained that the mission would be carried out by members of the Sea-Watch humanitarian rescue organisation, if possible from this Northern Hemisphere spring.

According to previous statements by Bedford-Strohm, the Church plans to purchase a ship owned by the northern federated state of Schleswig-Holstein at the end of January.

The bishop noted, however, that the bidding process for that ship is not yet finalised, for which the EKD is also studying other possibilities to obtain a rescue vessel.

Bedford-Strohm, finally, also paid tribute to the efforts of Cardinal Reinhard Marx, Chairman of the Catholic German Bishops’ Conference, whom Bedford-Strohm said had supported the “United4Rescue” alliance with a “substantial donation”.

“We are working in parallel and in different ways for sea rescue. We are pulling together”, the Protestant bishop emphasised.

Update 8/1/20 21:07 CET: German media are reporting that German Catholic Bishops’ President Cardinal Reinhard Marx has donated 50,000 euros towards the purchase of the EKD refugee rescue ship.

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