If 10-year-old Clara Magdalena Egler were in Germany, she would be going to her gymnastics and acrobatics classes, but her mother hasn’t seen her for six months and she thinks she may be in Paraguay. Lara Valentina Blank, another missing German child, would soon be celebrating her 11th birthday with her father and neighbors, but she has been missing since November 27 and is probably being hidden by her mother in some German Covid-denialist community in Paraguay.
Clara and Lara entered Paraguay in the company of two adults who no longer have custody of their children: the couple formed by Clara’s father, Andreas Rainer Egler, 46, and Lara’s mother, Anna Maria Egler (née Schapf), 35, an opera singer.
Both are suspected of taking their respective daughters to Paraguay without proper authorization from each child’s other biological parent. “Presumably they intended to live in some anti-vaccine community in the interior of the country [...] because they belong to Covid denialist groups,” reported the Children and Adolescents’ Rights Coordinator (CDIA), a non-profit group that has been providing assistance with the search.
“She loves being with her friends, she always needs friends to do her stunts,” said Anne Maja Reiniger-Egler, Clara’s mother, at a news conference in Asunción, the capital of Paraguay, where she traveled to look for her daughter. On Monday, as she addressed the media at the Prosecutor’s Office, she cried before the cameras as she asked the Paraguayan people to help her find her daughter.
Clara’s mother first came to Paraguay in February with her current husband and with Filip Blank (Lara’s father). They have conducted their own search through Paraguay, without success so far.
Meanwhile, legal and criminal proceedings have been activated in both countries, including an extradition request for Andreas Rainer Egler and Anna María Egler, who are required by the German justice system “for the punishable act of abduction of persons,” according to the CDIA. Paraguay authorities have also issued a “red alert” for their arrest, according to police officials at the news conference.
The German courts had taken away custody from Andreas Rainer Egler and Anna María Egler, and granted exclusive parental authority to Anne Maja and Filip, respectively.
Both Anne Maja and Filip say they had a good relationship with their ex-partners, until now: “We were the best separated parents. The best parents that Lara could have,” Filip said in a video now posted on social media where he begs his ex to come back.
Initially, the fleeing couple reportedly sought to settle in a German neighborhood located near La Colmena, in the Paraguayan countryside, about three hours by car from the capital. “Currently it is believed that they are in the area of Villarrica or Colonia Independencia,” said the authorities, alluding to other German communities, some of them established many decades ago, and which are currently swelling due to new arrivals who are taking advantage of the laxity of Paraguayan laws to avoid vaccination or hide from the laws of their country of origin.
Authorities are also not ruling out the possibility that Andreas and Anna Maria fled with the girls to other areas or illegally crossed the border from Paraguay to Brazil or Argentina.
“We have very closed German communities that make the investigative task a bit difficult,” said Mario Vallejos, the commissioner and deputy chief of Anti-Kidnapping of Paraguay, at the press conference. This official requested citizen cooperation and guaranteed that informants’ identities would remain secret.
“Andreas, please, put an end to this situation that is robbing me and so many others of sleep. Please contact us or the lawyers or someone you trust. Let us find a solution together. Clara and Lara surely do not feel very well with this situation. They cannot spend the rest of their childhood on the run,” said Clara’s mother in Asunción. “I am placing all my hope in the Paraguayan people. Please help us, I am a desperate mother,” she added.
The German Embassy has expressed its concern about this case, which might not be an isolated event. According to the German Federal Office of Justice, in 2017, there were 186 cases of parents taking their children from the other parent; in 2020 there were 242 new cases of child abduction; in 2021, the number rose to more than 250.
During the pandemic, Germany became the European nation with the largest number of expatriates in Paraguay. They are already the third-largest immigrant community in the country, behind Brazilians and Argentines. At least 1,644 Germans completed their settlement process in Paraguay in 2021, as reported to EL PAÍS by the Migration Directorate. That is almost triple the figure for 2020. And, as of March 30 of this year, another 575 had completed their application process.
Some religious and right-wing communities see Paraguay as a refuge from vaccine mandates. Officially, there are 7,731 Germans living in Paraguay, but the real figure is hard to know due to the permeable borders of the country, where anyone who wants to can enter or leave by walking or sailing through numerous spots along the 3,739 kilometers of land and river that it shares with Brazil, Argentina and Bolivia. The German embassy in Asunción handles different numbers: the German consul Frank Gauls estimates that between 22,000 and 30,000 Germans are living in Paraguay.