Late July I participated in the week-long International Relations and Cooperation Policy Review Conference and I recall that the programme did not have a specific session on Namibians abroad and how our foreign policy caters for them outside of the normal home affairs functions such as issuing emergency travel documents or handling passport applications. However, I will give the benefit of doubt that since the sessions were parallel, one of the other sessions I did not seat in perhaps engaged on how our foreign policy contains a focus of sorts on protecting and caring for the Namibian abroad. To a large extend I blame my expectations on movies. Most action movies I have watched would always portray the US embassy as home away from home for both its good and bad citizens. I have watched criminals wreak havoc in Russia and China just to run into the US embassy and be protected.
They are even flown out, no questions asked thus even in a fictional set up the message is clear that the US citizen is always protected no matter where they are in the world. So imagine my expectations when I recently lost myself in the city of Cologne, Germany. Technically it was my identity documents and various other valuables, nonetheless the entire experience was emotionally and mentally exhausting. Without going down a rather sordid memory lane, it ended with a decision to return home and put my life in order. Through this entire ordeal, I found solace in knowing that somewhere in Germany, in a city called Berlin, was a small piece of Namibia with fellow Namibians who are on my side. Knowing that kept me sane for an entire month with a lost passport in Cologne. At least that is how my movie infested mind reasoned. It suffices to say that my visit to our embassy despite being fruitful at the end of a very long day, left a bittersweet taste in my mouth. In order to return home, I needed to journey to Berlin for an emergency travel document from our embassy. I arrived in Berlin keen to just get my hands on a document that would permit me to board a plane back home. In more frank terms, I was exhausted and needed the process to not add to my already fragile state of mind. The advantage for me was that I previously lived in Berlin for three months hence I knew my way around and also had friends to stay with there.
Thus making it easy for me to not panic when I found myself at the end of a somewhat unfriendly and cumbersome process that made me question just how relevant our foreign policy is to the Namibian abroad or to rephrase, who should protect and care for the Namibian abroad if not our embassies? As I left the embassy, I recall chewing on a piece of biltong from the kind Ms W, who unfortunately had to see me reduced to a puddle of emotions (tears) due to frustration and fatigue. Fatigue that I had to travel miles in a foreign country just to feel even more lost at my own embassy. The tasks that I needed to do in order to get my emergency travel document were mundane to say the least looking back however in the moment they felt like weights on my shoulders and the most challenging one was getting a police declaration from the federal police. Despite communicating with the embassy that the Cologne police refused to issue me with a declaration because they only assist cases of theft and mine was in the hands of the City since my passport was lost and not stolen. Nonetheless I was informed by our good embassy that lest I have a declaration, I cannot get an emergency travel document. I even asked if they could vouch for me in writing that I am Namibian and need to return hence the need for the declaration despite it not being the norm, after all who should vouch for me as a Namibian citizen? My embassy or the federal police? The response was a crisp and cold, ‘there is nothing we can do for you lest our present us with a declaration’.
There I was at a police station in Berlin asking for a declaration, just to be given the same information I already had from the Cologne police. However, with teary eyes and inquiries into my options for deportation, I was eventually granted the declaration. After which I needed to deposit the application fee and then sat at the embassy past their working hours to get my document because it was only Ms W who was on duty that specific day as my fellow Namibians were on leave (It was just after Heroes day). As I walked to catch my train chewing on my piece of biltong, I thought to myself what if I was not able to do any of the things I was asked to do today? What if my bank card was also in my backpack and lost alongside with my documents, meaning I had no access to money? What if I could not afford the train ticket to Berlin from Cologne? What if I had no friends in Germany to accommodate me? What if I did not have a scholarship willing to sponsor my return trip to Namibia and I needed to return before my visa expires? What if I was truly lost in Germany? Can I confidently say my embassy would have been able to help me?
The truth is I doubt it. I say doubt because as I pondered on various worst case scenarios I thanked God my situation was moderate. Do our embassies have emergency budgets? Is the Namibian in a foreign land a priority case for our missions? Does our foreign policy clearly outline how the Namibian abroad should be protected and cared for by our embassy? From what I have seen and experienced, I doubt it, lest its reserved for some only. Lesson learned here is to be very cautious with my documents in future, but then again no one deliberately losses their documents but my sincere advice to Namibians abroad is to please make sure you have a personal emergency fund handy and befriend as many foreigners as possible because if you are like me and think that just by entering our embassy grounds, you are home away from home, I daresay the reality is really depressing. The good thing is our foreign policy was just recently reviewed so maybe there is still hope that not everyone else will ask these kind of questions, OR is my case just one of those isolated-expect too much situations? If so, can we then please strive to be like the other embassies in the movies?
Rakkel Andreas is an MA European and International Studies graduate from the Centre International de Formation Européen (CIFE) in Nice-France as well as BA in Media Studies and Political Science from the University of Namibia. The viewpoints expressed by the author are inspired by her thesis titled “The influence of German Political identity on its foreign policy: An analysis on the special case of Namibia”.