Guest blogpost by Stefanie Glinski, freelance journalist in Kathmandu, writing for Time Magazine and Der Spiegel, among others.
After a 7.8 magnitude earthquake left much of Nepal in a pile of rubble, hundreds of Europeans remain unaccounted for almost two weeks later.
EU Ambassador to Nepal, Ms. Rensje Teerink announced last week that over 1,000 EU citizens are still lost, yet embassies and the Nepalese government pursue any information or link that leads to them. They are successful daily, even though rescue missions remain a challenge. „The search for missing Europeans is a big puzzle,“ a German disaster relief worker says.
The exact number of those disappeared is unknown, especially as many areas in Nepal – such as the Langtang and Everest hiking regions – are still partly cut off and not easily accessible. Langtang village, where many EU citizens were believed to have stayed during the quake, was wiped out completely. Rescue teams have started to assemble the dead that are then being flown back to Kathmandu.
At the country’s only international airport, help desks operated by EU representatives line the pavement outside, advising departing travellers and taking down each passenger’s passport information and name. “Every day we compare these names with the list of unaccounted people we have at the embassy, then crossing those out who we met and talked to,” Dietmar Bleistein explains, who sits at the German desk. “Shortly after the quake, we had about 100 people stop by daily, but now we’re down to 30.” Many travellers also provide clues and information about people who might still be trapped.
EU embassies cooperate closely with Nepalese authorities to guarantee more evacuations. “We know the area well and have sent many helicopters to locate and help people,” says Sagar Mani Parajuli, Joint Secretary at the Ministry of Home Affairs in Nepal. “Many have returned to Kathmandu, but others have already left the country without registering with their embassies or foreign offices,” he adds. That is one of the problems why it is difficult to know for certain who is still missing.
France stated five days ago that 159 of their citizens were still missing, while they were down to 42 two days ago. Rescue missions are efficient and done as fast as possible.
“We work hard to evacuate all European and international citizens,” said a spokesman at the Consulate of Poland on Wednesday. He added that no further Polish nationals were lost in Nepal. “We had an evacuation flight a few days ago and brought over 100 people back to Poland,” says the spokesman.
Nepal’s earthquake has made a closer cooperation between EU embassies necessary and crucial. “We rely on this network in our mission,” explains Dr. Frank Marx, who is in Nepal with Malteser International, a worldwide relief agency. “Of course we have mainly come to Nepal for humanitarian work, but locating and evacuating our citizens is a priority, too.” Those who were injured or suffered traumatic experiences already left Nepal on flights for Europe.
Since the beginning of the catastrophe, 58 foreign nationals have been confirmed dead, but the number is expected to rise as access to remote hiking areas becomes available again. The strong network of European representations heavily relies on Nepal’s help as well. Does the Nepalese government therefore do everything possible to find those who are still missing, especially after admitting in April that they were not prepared for a possible earthquake?
Mr. Bleistein believes so. „Of course they are doing whatever lies within their power, but the standard is different; it can’t be compared to that of the European Union.“