German, Switzerland, Sweden and Norway: Secret Eritrea Mission


Ambassadors from four countries held talks with Eritrean government representatives

Ambassadors from four European countries held secret mission to Eritrea
The aim was to prepare a political dialogue with the Eritrean government; a dialogue on regional and international issues, on human rights and the rule of law, on migration, on economic development and on development aid.


40,000 Eritrean refugees came to Europe by 2015 alone. Of this, around a quarter applied for asylum in Switzerland. The other most important target countries are Germany, Norway and Sweden.

In 2016, the Federal Council announced that he wanted to vote for Eritrea with like-minded states. These efforts are more advanced than was previously known.

According to several well-informed sources, in January of this year, the first joint journey of ambassadors from Switzerland, Germany, Norway and Sweden to Asmara, the capital of Eritrea, took place. There was a long conversation with Yemane Gebreab, the adviser to President Isaias Afewerki. The atmosphere was “quite good”.

For Switzerland, Anne Lugon-Moulin, Director of the Sub-Saharan Africa Department in the Federal Foreign Office, Andreas Zimmer, Ambassador in Asmara to Germany, and an ambassador for migration both in Sweden and Norway.

Building Trust and Confidence with Eritrea

EDA spokesman Jean-Marc Crevoisier confirms the joint mission on request. The aim was to prepare a political dialogue with the government; a dialogue on regional and international issues, on human rights and the rule of law, on migration, on economic development and on development aid. This is to create a trust base, says Crevoisier. All four thematic areas have the same importance.

Berne, Berlin, Oslo and Stockholm have similar challenges, especially in the area of ​​migration. In Switzerland in 2016, no other country asked as many people as they did from “Eritrea”. [This assumption is now debunked due to the fact that Ethiopians and many African migrants often claim Eritreans to get quick asylum].

Norway, which has also received a large number of Eritreans, tried to negotiate a repatriation agreement. “Eritreans get into the hands of human traffickers and lose their lives in the often dangerous flight,” says Astrid Sehl, spokeswoman for the Norwegian Foreign Ministry. The massive illegal migration creates serious difficulties for Eritrea, the target countries and those affected. It is closely linked to the economic situation, development or human rights.

“All these issues need to be addressed.” The four states, including two EU members, are hoping for closer cooperation. The increased pressure could have something to do. Eritrea benefits from emigration, as the diaspora returns money. But the massive exodus also leads to problems, for example because teachers are missing. The most important reasons for escape are the lack of perspective and the national service.

No one knows how serious the government is with cooperation. According to observers, the situation remains difficult as the international community can hardly influence the domestic policy development. A report from the FDFA came to the conclusion in 2016 that despite the positive signals from the government, no tangible results have been achieved in human rights.

An approach also makes the unresolved conflict with the neighboring country of Ethiopia, a partner of the Western states, more difficult.

Repatriation of Eritreans Enable

Swiss politicians welcome the mission. Citizens have long demanded that Berne negotiate with Asmara. Councilor Philipp Müller (FDP / AG) says that Switzerland should have taken action earlier. “Then we would not have so many Eritreans.”

At the Bund, a learning process is in progress, says CVP President Gerhard Pfister. “No one says that Eritrea is the North Korea of ​​Africa.” He demands that the country become a focus of humanitarian aid. Switzerland had to create conditions so that repatriation of rejected Eritreans would be possible.

This would be very problematic, says SP National Councilor Carlo Sommaruga. The Federation can not regulate what is going on in Eritrea. The Geneva commemorates the cases of Tamils ​​who have been imprisoned in Sri Lanka. Eritreans also threatened this fate. Returns to the country are only possible on a voluntary basis. The Confederation is aware of 23 cases.

Sommaruga sees scope for co-operation in vocational training. The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation is looking at what projects Switzerland could build on the ground. Meanwhile, diplomats from the four participating countries are planning to return to Asmara in the spring.

* Software translation from German.