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Speech by the Foreign Minister to pay tribute to the volunteers of the Federal Agency for Technical Relief (THW)

19.09.2022 - Speech

“What counts is the community, not where you come from. We all roll up our sleeves together – no matter what branch we’re in.”

These are the words of a THW volunteer who helped fight the forest fires in Brandenburg in the summer.

And I believe that is the very motto that makes the THW family so incredibly strong. You don’t hesitate and ask questions, you roll up your sleeves, and what is more, together. You don’t focus on yourselves but on the community.

The thanks voiced to you all by the Federal Minister of the Interior made plain, to my mind, just how large this community is and how many actors are part of it. Together, you performed 3.7 million hours of work last year, both at home and abroad. That isn’t something any one person can do. You can only do that as part of a strong community.

And behind this unbelievable figure of 3.7 million hours we have women and men sleeping for nights on end on camp‑beds, separated from their partners, having to tell their children time and again: “This is really important, Mum needs to go and help. It’ll be five or seven days before I’m back.”

There is always a degree of pain and uncertainty in the equation but above all else an amazing level of dedication.

And the bad news we have to share with you is that the work isn’t going to get any less, we still need your dedication. After all, the impact of the climate crisis continues to hit us with massive force. We have just seen the full brutality of this in Pakistan. At the same time, any number of you are still working in and around the Ahr valley.

And if you look at this work, as my friend Nancy, the Federal Minister of the Interior, just pointed out once more, you can see that it is impossible to divide disaster relief into a national and an international task. After all, crises neither stop at Land borders nor at international borders.

From the very outset, the THW adopted this cross-border thinking. That as a community, you don’t ask where someone comes from but say that we’re rolling up our sleeves, as a neighbouring Land, as a neighbouring country and around the world.

When I am abroad, people often talk to me about your work. Many of course aren’t entirely sure what THW is. But internationally, the colour blue does not just stand for our EU missions but also for the THW. For your vehicles, for what you do on the ground. And frequently I hear, “Thank you that Germany, thank you that you helped us after this earthquake or after that hurricane.”

It is this thanks and recognition that the Federal Interior Minister and I as Foreign Minister want to pass on to you today. You represent Germany internationally. In other countries, no-one asks what the difference is between THW and the fire brigade. Is THW attached to the Interior Ministry or the Foreign Ministry? You represent Germany, you help on behalf of Germany. That is why you are a flagship of German foreign policy. So please also accept my sincere thanks!

I believe the good thing is that you always bring something away with you. I am sure that is why many of you are involved. It is also important for us at the political level that missions abroad are not just a way to help in another country but also that you bring this special experience back home with you. And I am talking here not just about cultural experiences but also experience in how to deal with major crises, particularly the climate crisis. This also strengthens our disaster risk management at home. There are so many examples of this and in the next hour we will hear what many of you have to say.

I would like to pay tribute to a few individuals whose stories moved me greatly in recent months.

Take Markus Liebl from your Munich branch. On 25 February, just after Russia’s brutal attack on Ukraine, he gets the call: we need someone for logistics right away. And on 26 February he is in the car heading for Kraków to equip Ukrainians with blankets, medicine, clothes and food.

So many of you have done that in recent weeks and months! You helped our Ukrainian neighbours at the border, in Poland, in Moldova but also here in Germany by giving the refugees a sense of home and at the same time supporting neighbouring countries.

Viola Huck is also here with us today. When four-metre high flooding destroyed the coast of Mozambique in 2019, you flew straight to Beira for the THW. There you repaired wells so the people had water to drink. Viola Huck actually works as a biologist in Saarland. And what I think is fascinating is how she ended up with THW. It was the further training offered: “I wanted to learn some practical skills alongside my job.” And then you use these practical skills for us.

The same holds true for Annika Badorreck from Cottbus. Although you work as an environmental scientist, you have learnt many new skills through THW. Like how to use welders and angle grinders. You made plain that there is nowhere you can learn so much about team work as at THW.

And this team work was something Annika Badorreck needed once more during the forest fires in Brandenburg where she levelled tracks which the fire brigade were then able to use to access the inferno.

These are just three examples. And there are hundreds or even thousands I could list. Examples of the many volunteers who make up the THW.

And these examples also show that we are not talking about something abstract here but about something eminently practical. After all, you are saving lives here in Germany and all across the world.

With 3.7 million hours of work last year. With 3.7 million hours of dedication.

As I said, I unfortunately can’t promise that your workload is going to shrink. But what we can promise you today, myself as Foreign Minister and Nancy Faeser as Interior Minister, is that we are just as dedicated about supporting you. This Federal Government thinks in terms of team work and not: what is my ministry, what is your ministry. What we do is think together about how to anchor the work of the THW in politics regardless of national borders.

This is the very reason why I keep mentioning the National Security Strategy that the Federal Government is currently drawing up. Because we in the Federal Government believe that it is a really big step for your work, for the contribution made by many colleagues engaged in civilian peace work – but also for the Bundeswehr missions we have abroad. We need to understand that in our globalised world we can only work in networked and integrated fashion, we need to grasp that civilian and military assistance can only work hand in hand. And that we as politicians need to create the best conditions for this to happen.

So the next time you tell your daughter or your son, “I’m on a mission for Germany again” – whether in Germany or further afield – you know that we are right behind you with all our dedication.

What is more, not just here today as we voice our thanks, but during all of your 3.7 million hours of work in the year.

Thank you very much.

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