In 2015, the Global Citizen Award honored Harald Höppner’s courage and individual initiative at the time of the most dramatic refugee crisis in the Mediterranean Sea. Born to a family of doctors in East Berlin, Höppner dropped out of university when the Berlin Wall was demolished in November 1989 in order to travel the world. He then started a successful business selling exotic furniture, jewelry, clothing, and artistic craftwork from India, Thailand, Nepal and Indonesia.
In November 2014, at the onset of the Mediterranean refugee crisis and following a terrible accident where 366 refugees’ lives were lost when a boat capsized near the island of Lampedusa, Höppner, together with his colleague Matthias Kuhnt, purchased a century-old fishing boat and began patrolling the Mediterranean Sea.
In June 2015, after nearly six months of planning, preparation and renovations, the boat — now named Sea Watch — was equipped with first aid kits, drinking water, life boats, and satellite phones. Sea Watch began providing rescue efforts and first aid to refugees off the Libyan coast, rescuing 600 people on its first mission alone. The organization has since grown significantly with the help of numerous volunteers dedicated to saving as many people as possible from distress at sea. Sea Watch was able to rescue over 5,000 souls in 2015 alone.