Demonstration on family reunification from Eritrea: increase the pressure

Eritrean refugees wait years in Germany for their families to be allowed to come. That’s why they want to demonstrate on Saturday.

Demonstration for family reunification from Eritrea in June in Berlin Foto: Florian Boillot

BERLIN taz | For the second time within a few months, Eritrean refugees want to demonstrate on Saturday in Berlin’s government district for their right to family reunification. After the first demonstration in July with more than 1,000 participants, the Federal Foreign Office had neither answered the demonstrators’ letter nor changed its practice, says one of those affected, Mehari Tsegay of the taz. The motto of the demo at the time was “I miss my family”.

Tsegay has lived in Germany since 2014 and has been waiting for his wife and two children who are in Ethiopia ever since. He says, “We have to increase the pressure. The unrest in Ethiopia, where many families are waiting, has worsened in recent months. Our families are badly affected and had to leave their homes. “

According to the initiators, 1,200 refugees from Eritrea are currently waiting for their families to join them. The escape from the Horn of Africa to Europe via the Sahara, the civil war state of Libya and the Mediterranean Sea is so dangerous that often only men feel comfortable going. Meanwhile, the women and children wait in Ethiopia or Sudan, i.e. in politically and economically unstable countries. According to official statistics, a good 80 percent of the Eritrean refugees living in Germany are men. If they are granted asylum – the rule given the catastrophic situation in Eritrea – they have the right to family reunification.

In practice it looks different. According to official information from the federal government and international organizations, one first waits six to twelve months for registration with the UN refugee agency UNHCR in Eritrea’s neighboring countries and then another 12 months for an appointment at the German embassy in order to even be able to apply for family reunification. During this time, their husbands in Germany are responsible for the livelihood of the women and children, who often run into high debts. Because they are poorly trained and often only precariously employed here.

Eritrea takes a lot of money for official documents

“Then many more months pass before the applications are processed,” says the call for the demonstration. “Family reunification often fails because of the unreasonable and unfulfillable demands that the German embassies place on the evidence of family ties and the identity of relatives”.

This is due to the fact that in Eritrea births and weddings are usually not registered by the state but only by the church. Applicants can only submit church birth and marriage certificates. But the Foreign Office does not recognize this because the consular officers are not qualified to do so, as the federal government announced in its response to a parliamentary question from the left.

If you want to apply for a certificate for a marriage or a birth from abroad at a later date from the Eritrean state, you have to pay two percent of your income as a so-called “disaspor tax” for the time after leaving Eritrea. Without this tax there are no documents. Refugees call it unreasonable to also finance their persecuting state. They demand that the German Foreign Office should move and also recognize non-state documents. In addition, the refugees believe that applications for family reunification should be given priority.

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The plague of locusts endangers an entire region

A locust plague has raged in East Africa for months. Huge swarms of crops destroy crops, the food supply to the population is at risk. But in the face of the corona pandemic, the region threatens to be left alone.

The first warnings came in July 2019. In the face of heavy rainfall, the World Food Organization feared a sudden increase in the desert grasshopper in East Africa. Ten months later, the second wave of locust plague is spreading across countries like Kenya, Somalia, Eritrea and South Sudan and destroys a large part of the vegetation in the affected regions. Fields are eaten empty, while the cattle find no more food in the pastures. In June and July, the third wave threatens to coincide with the harvest of the remaining plants.

Even small swarms of a square kilometer destroy a lot of food per day that could feed 35,000 people. Already at the beginning of the year reports reported swarms as large as the Saarland. The region is facing the worst plague in 25 years – in Kenya it has not been as dramatic in seven decades.

The Corona crisis doesn’t make the situation easier. Because air traffic is limited, some pesticide deliveries have to be embarked, which means that the insecticide is only available later. Exit restrictions could also make control of the plague secondary. Young animals that could now be controlled effectively could grow into reproductive grasshoppers. At the same time, governments around the world are dealing with the Covid 19 pandemic. The misery of the people in East Africa could therefore go under.

Locusts – loners and swarm animals

Migratory grasshoppers, including the desert grasshopper, are not necessarily a threat to vegetation. Rather, the insects exist in two different forms, each of which is genetically identical, but differs greatly in behavior and body structure. In the so-called single phase, the animals are local. However, if the population exceeds a certain number due to favorable breeding conditions, the animals change. The reason for this is an increased release of serotonin.

The grasshoppers become darker and larger in the swarm phase, their metabolism accelerates and they multiply faster. The animals also begin to form flocks and migrate. These properties increase with each new generation. The result: the swarms get bigger, consume more food and therefore move on. A swarm travels up to 150 kilometers a day. The number of grasshoppers is exponential: in three months the population can increase twenty-fold, in six months the number of grasshoppers is 400 times under favorable conditions, and 8,000 times after nine months.

Affected countries have already been weakened by other crises

The locusts encounter countries that are weakened by armed conflict and natural disasters. Plagues that occur regularly in Yemen on the Arabian Peninsula are known and have been successfully countered in the past by early intervention. Current however, civil war is raging and the grasshoppers were able to multiply practically unhindered. According to Welthungerhilfe, the various shoals have already laid their eggs inland. There is currently heavy rainfall, which leads to optimal propagation conditions for the insects.

There are also armed conflicts in some regions in East Africa. In South Sudan, for example, it already existed before a hunger crisis as a result of years of civil war. The region is also affected by extreme weather conditions such as droughts and heavy rain. The renewed plague of locusts exacerbates the already precarious situation of the people.

Added to this is the corona crisis. Many people have lost their income from either the locust plague or the pandemic restrictions. At the same time, food is becoming scarce and prices are rising. So the price of bread in Sudan has doubled. That overwhelms people. Carolin Schmidt from Welthungerhilfe, program coordinator in South Sudan, confirms that more than half of the people in the country can no longer eat adequately without help.

Matthias Späth, Country Director of Welthungerhilfe in Ethiopia, assumes that the consequences of the corona pandemic, together with the locust plague, will remain felt for at least one to two years and that the people affected will need support. The plague could spread to other parts of Africa. If massive containment is not successful in East Africa, the grasshoppers will continue to migrate. The swarms of insects could penetrate as far as West Africa.

A swarm of locusts invades Kenya: the insects destroy the vegetation and thus the livelihood of the population. (Source: Xinhua / imago images)

Widespread pesticide use can create new problems

In the affected areas of East Africa, governments are now trying to curb the plague through the widespread use of pesticides. Wherever pesticides are available, they are used against the swarms from the air. But not only locusts die from the toxins. Useful insects also die. In addition, the pesticides get into the soil – when the grasshoppers are gone and the soil can be reapplied, the substances migrate into the food chain.

Welthungerhilfe is therefore committed to using mechanical methods to combat pesticides as well. For example, local people are trained to drive locusts that are still unable to fly into shallow ditches and to burn or bury them there. At the same time, the population receives support in the form of food, replacement for lost cattle or seeds.

To ensure the survival of the people affected, however, further financial aid is necessary. The global community has already responded, providing $ 120 million. Germany also participates with 20 million euros, as Federal Development Minister Gerd Müller explains in an interview with t-online.de.

In the medium and long term, early warning systems must also be set up. Reliable financing is also required for this. Since the widespread use of toxins also endangers the health of the population, Welthungerhilfe advocates the research and use of biological insecticides. These can be plant insecticides, for example.

Climate crisis favors grasshopper plagues – and makes them more unpredictable

Locust plagues in the region occur regularly, favored by the weather phenomenon “Indian Ocean Dipole”. The surface of the sea in the eastern Indian Ocean is particularly cool, causing extreme drought on the one hand in Australia and pushing air masses to the west on the other. As it travels across the Arabian Sea, the air absorbs a lot of moisture – if it hits the African continent, heavy rainfall occurs. Without these, the locusts would not be able to reproduce enough to form swarms.

The dipole usually occurs every four to six years. But now the weather constellation came three times in a row. Climate researchers assume that the climate crisis has a significant impact on ocean currents and phenomena such as the dipole. Locust plagues could therefore not only occur more irregularly, but also more frequently. This means even more uncertainty for the people of East Africa.

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