Ten years after Switzerland stopped giving aid to Eritrea, the government announced it will look into starting it up again. It could mean the relaunch of Swiss development programmes in the country which has been accused by the United Nations of committing crimes against humanity.
The foreign ministry said on Wednesday that the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) would look into the “possibility of carrying out pilot projects”. It will involve a limited annual budget of CHF2 million ($2.05 million). The projects would focus on improving employment opportunities for young people.
The potential change of direction by the Swiss could show whether the Eritrean government is ready to open a dialogue with Switzerland and move towards a “partnership”.
In a press release, the foreign ministry said it was also about testing whether Eritrea would be transparent and put in place “effective operational conditions”. If so, these early steps could lead to a more large scale development programme.
The Swiss also highlighted that efforts would be needed on both sides, including improvements by Eritrea on the human rights situation in the country. Although the Eritrean government had given “positive signals” in recent years, the political, economic and human rights situation was still “very problematic”.
Parliament asked the government for a report on the situation in Eritrea and a strategy for the repatriation of refugees. The difficult human rights situation in the east African country had made virtually impossible to send asylum seekers back.
According to the UN, hundreds of thousands of Eritreans have fled their home country in recent years. About 20,000 Eritreans now live in Switzerland, the largest Eritrean diaspora in the world. In addition, Eritreans also make up the largest national group of asylum seekers in Switzerland.
swissinfo.ch and agencies