Wednesday, December 29, 2010

WORK (Georgia)

"A Nordmann fir tree for sale at a German Christmas tree market: Georgia is a major supplier of seeds for Nordmann firs." (DAPD)
Risking Lives for Christmas: The Human Cost of Georgia's Fir Tree Business
By Matthias Schepp
Spiegel Online, December 22, 2010
"Dato Chikhardze sets a plastic canister of water down beside his rusty Lada in front of his brick house. He has just drawn the water from a nearby river. Life is basic here in the mountains, and living conditions are tough. Dato, 44, is one of the lucky ones: He has a full-time, if low-paid, job as a teacher at the village school. Only 22 out of 300 residents in the village of Tlugi have full-time jobs. Every September, three months before Christmas, Dato and the other men from the village set off to make a little extra money. They go into the remote mountain forests around the small city of Ambrolauri to pick fir cones. The seeds from these cones are bound for Europe, to be grown into stately Nordmann fir trees that will eventually enhance the Christmas celebrations of wealthy Europeans. Well over half of all fir seeds that become household Christmas trees in countries such as Germany, Denmark and Great Britain originate in Tlugi and other villages here in northeastern Georgia. Georgian fir cones are considered to be especially high quality because they produce tall, long-lasting trees with soft needles. Christmas tree sales in Europe amount to €2 billion ($2.6 billion) annually -- the business generated €700 million in sales in Germany alone last year. It's a highly competitive market, and one that wouldn't be nearly as profitable without Georgian fir cones. Seven to 10 kilograms (15 to 22 pounds) of Nordmann fir cones are needed for a single kilogram of seeds. Middlemen in Georgia sell these for around €25 per kilo to foreign companies, who in turn resell them in Europe for more than €100 per kilo -- 50 times the amount earned by workers like Dato.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

WORK (Djibouti)

Africans Brave Dangerous Water Crossing to Yemen, in Hopes of a Better Life
By Sudarsan Raghavan
The Washington Post, December 25, 2010
"They had walked for 10 days, across mountains and barren plains. In their hands, some carried small backpacks and yellow cans filled with water. In their minds, they carried the hopes of their relatives back in Ethiopia. 'We are running away from poverty,' said Mohammed Said, 17. 'We want to go to Yemen to send money back to our families. They are counting on us.' Said and 30 other young Ethiopians, including six women, crouched on the hard soil. Djiboutian border authorities had stopped them on a recent day in order to speak with a visiting UN delegation. Djiboutians consider such people illegal migrants, but they only occasionally enforce the law, especially if the migrants are passing through to another country. Less than a mile away, the turquoise waters of the Gulf of Aden shimmered in the sun. Two boatloads of Somali refugees had left the day before, the latest exodus of large numbers of African migrants -- mostly Ethiopians, Somalis and Eritreans -- who leave from Djibouti's coast to Yemen virtually every week. Each Ethiopian had scraped together $100 for the boat ride; many had taken collections from their relatives. Thieves had robbed some of them. None of them carried passports or any other travel documents. Now, they were waiting for dusk. That's when they hoped the smugglers would arrive with their boats along the beach and take them on the two-day journey to Yemen, the Middle East's poorest country, wracked by multiple crises. 'Are you fully aware of the dangers?' asked Antonio Guterres, the UN high commissioner for refugees, looking at the group, who were all Muslim. 'We know the risks,' replied Abdullahi Ibrahim, 28. 'But we are escaping hunger. If we had enough to eat, do you think we would leave our mothers, brothers and sisters?' [...]"