Swiss Migration Officials on Delicate Eritrea Mission

The Deputy of the State Secretariat for Migration and Diplomats from EU countries are putting pressure on Eritrea to accept returned asylum seekers. But Eritrea is against any forced repatriation. So far, only few voluntarily returned home.


At the beginning of the year, high ranking diplomats from Switzerland, Germany, Norway and Sweden traveled to Asmara for talks with the Eritrean government. The four states, which are among the most important target countries by Eritrean migrants, hope that they will achieve more together.

Last week, a joint delegation was again held a meeting at the Horn of Africa state. She met Presidential Advisor Yemane Gebreab and Foreign Minister Osman Saleh.

For Switzerland, the head of the Department of Sub-Saharan Africa at the Foreign Department and Vice Director of the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM), Vincenzo Mascioli, took part in the meeting. This is confirmed by a speaker on request.

Simonetta Sommaruga (SP), the former personal assistant to the Minister of Justice, has been in charge since the beginning of the year for international cooperation is also responsible for the return of rejected asylum seekers.

The Federal Administrative Court recently supported the federal government in a basic decision, which in 2016 intensified the practice for Eritreans. This resulted little because they are only voluntary repatriations.

According to the SEM, eleven Eritreans returned to their homeland last year. In comparison, in 2015 alone, there were 10,000 Eritrean asylum requests in Switzerland.

First Positive Signals, Deep Expectations

The migration was one of the four topics of the talks that Mascioli and the delegation in Asmara held with government representatives. The issue of the return was also addressed, says SEM spokesman Lukas Rieder.

Eritrea does not allow forced repatriation of refugees by any European state. Norway tried unsuccessfully to negotiate an agreement. But this is currently not an issue. But there are at least small positive signals. The parties agreed that the discussions on migration and human rights should be strengthened.

In addition, the Eritrean authorities have answered identity requests to rejected asylum seekers, as the SEM confirms. Identification of migrants is often difficult as refugees from countries such as Sudan give a false origin to increase their chances of asylum.

URS von ARB, the predecessor of SEM’s Vice-Director Mascioli, in 2015 after an Eritrean mission, concluded that the country is not North Korea. Bourgeois politicians have long demanded that Berne negotiate with Asmara about a return agreement, while leftists are skeptical.

Whether or not there is progress on this depends mainly on the Eritrean government. Observers warn against high expectations. The influence of Western states on Eritrea is limited, even with an expansion of development aid. China, for example, has granted the country interest-free loans.

Meanwhile, asylum applications from Eritrean fell slightly at the beginning of this year compared to 2016. They represent the largest group of refugees in Switzerland. The most important causes of massive migration are the lack of prospects and the national service. The delegation of the four like-minded states also asked Asmara to explain its operation.