Swiss hostage released in Yemen

Kidnappings of Westerners in Yemen have been a regular occurrence in recent years amid political turmoil Keystone

A Swiss woman seized by armed men in Yemen a year ago was freed Wednesday, the foreign ministry has confirmed.

This content was published on February 28, 2013 - 08:30 and agencies

Ministry officials told the Swiss News Agency Wednesday that representatives of the ministry had taken charge of the 33-year-old woman.

She will soon return to Switzerland from Doha, the authorities added, saying that the teacher is “doing well considering the circumstances.”

Switzerland is very grateful towards the State of Qatar for the “exceptional efforts undertaken in connection with the release,” the ministry told the news agency.

Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter spoke to the former hostage by phone just before midnight, spokesman Jean-Marc Crevoisier said. Crevoisier said no ransom was paid.

The woman was working in a language school in the southwestern port city of Hodeida when she was kidnapped from her house on March 12 last year. Video messages were sent in May and August.

Immediately following the kidnapping, the foreign ministry established a task force to investigate the case.

The ministry declined to comment further “out of consideration for the privacy of the people involved”.

Kidnappings of foreigners by armed tribes occur quite frequently in Yemen, as a way of putting pressure on the authorities over certain demands. Most victims are returned safely afterwards.

Swiss authorities are warning against travelling to Yemen and have recommended the Swiss living there to leave the country.

Support for Swiss abroad

The political division VI of the foreign ministry was set up in 2009 following the Luxor attack in 1997 in which 62 people, including 36 Swiss tourists, died.
It incorporates the service for Swiss abroad, consular protection and, since June 1, 2011 the Division for Security Policy and Crisis Management as well as travel advice.
The security policy division has created an international monitoring and alert system as well as a crisis intervention unit consisting of 270 volunteers in five continents.
In terms of prevention, the crisis division publishes the foreign ministry’s Advice to Travellers on 157 countries on the internet and Twitter. It employs 12 people and has an annual budget of SFr400,000.
Set up on January 1, 2011, the foreign ministry hotline will be available 24 hours a day from May 1, 2012. It receives an average 2,000 calls and mails every month and is staffed by ten people.
In the event of a major crisis, a hotline staffed by 16 volunteers can be implemented.
(Source: foreign ministry)

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Law for Swiss abroad

The activities of the foreign ministry are defined by a diplomatic regulation attached to the constitution which stipulates that “Switzerland comes to the aid of Swiss living abroad”.

The Organisation of the Swiss Abroad has been demanding a specific law for years. A parliamentary initiative by senator Filippo Lombardi has been accepted by committees of both parliamentary chambers.

The initiative has come at an opportune moment for the government, which wants to clarify the rights of Swiss living abroad, but also their obligations and responsibilities.

Some parliamentarians are demanding a financial contribution from tourists or agencies “that put Switzerland in danger”. This already happens – a couple of tourists taken hostage in Mali in 2009 had to pay SFr40,000 ($44,262) – but the conditions are unclear.

Observers say the difficulty is to fix a sum and determine who pays. This could vary depending on whether it is a worker with an NGO, or a Swiss firm, someone who has been living abroad for a long time, or a tourist.

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