‘Inhumane & hostile’: German satire on refugee swim courses in open waters sparks online controversy

FILE PHOTO © Giorgos Moutafis
The Almanac for the annual German Press Ball, which included a satirical piece offering swim courses for refugees reaching Europe, sparked quite a stir online. The organizers of the event apologized for the publication following the criticism.

The paper in question was handed over to the guests of the Ball, staged last Friday in Berlin by the Federal Press Conference (BPK). To give the attendants of the annual gala a keepsake, they are handed over an Almanac, which includes satirical stories, caricatures and backstage contributions. This year’s edition contained a piece about a pseudo Federal Bath Agency offering swimming courses for the refugees.

"Warm welcome to the Swim School Refugium," read the title of the paper. The fake agency was supposed to give special courses for the babies, youngsters and also adult refugees so that they can feel themselves “secure in the water.” One particular course was entitled “Baby refugee swimming (for 3 month and older).” Among the techniques offered in all of the programs are “holding the flotsam, diving during high waves, jumping from the inflatable boat as well as breathing techniques at night and in the cold."

The satirical approach, however, backfired on the organizers, with journalists, politicians and others venting their anger over the piece via comments on social media networks. 

“So much cynicism and human hostility makes one stunned,” Simone Peter, parliamentary chief of the German Green party (Bundnis 90/Die Grunen) wrote. 

Her words were echoed by one of the leading German journalists, Robert Rossmann, of Suddeutsche Zeitung. “Satire in ‘Almanac’ of the Federal Press Ball is inhumane,” the media representative said on Twitter.

The public on social media also teamed up with one message, saying: “Must be satire. But is tasteless and zero funny.”

“Where is the #Shitstorm when you need it?” another person stated.

The piece however also had its supporters with the German journalist Tilo Jung calling on everyone to calm down since the almanac was meant as pure satire. “Do not shoot the messenger! With regard to the German and European refugee policy, the satire is great because it provokes and hopefully awakes [people],” he told Der Tagespiegel.

Authors of the piece also defended their work, saying their goal was to draw attention to the problem of thousands of refugees drowning in the Mediterranean while trying to reach Europe.

"In fact, the piece is quite bitter and evil. It is offensive. It has been the object of several intense discussions. I personally absolutely do not like it. It is not even funny. But surprise – it is not meant to," Jens Peter Paul, who was among the journalists behind the ‘Almanac’ said on Facebook. 

The BPK has meantime issued an apology for the satire, saying it is sorry for “offending feelings and value norms.”“We apologize for that,” the statement reads.

Almost 5,000 refugees have drowned or gone missing so far this year while trying to escape the violence in their countries, according to the UN numbers. Back in May the International Organization for Migration stated that 2016 has already become the deadliest year with regard to drowned refugees