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Eritrea seizes control of Swiss-funded vocational centre

Eritrean landscape
Eritrea is taking schools out of religious hands. Keystone / Thomas Aeschi

The Eritrean government has taken control of a vocational education centre that was run by an Italian Catholic order and sponsored by Swiss development funds.

Swiss public broadcaster SRF reportsExternal link that the facility in Dekemhare was nationalised as part of a drive in the East African country to create a purely secular educational system.

Don Bosco Catholic monks have been told to leave the project, which trains around 400 students in trades such as brick laying, bakery and carpentry.

Switzerland had supported the project with CHF1.3 million ($1.36 million) in development aid. 

It is unclear whether the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) funding for vocational education in Eritrea, which was expanded in 2020 from an initial CHF4 million to an additional CHF6 million, will continue.

Three years’ ago, a Norwegian vocational training project in Eritrea, which was supported by Switzerland, also had to close, reports SRF.

Switzerland’s policy of providing development aid to Eritrea has now come into question. Parliament had approved the funding seven years’ ago, hoping it help negotiations with the Eritrean government on taking back failed asylum seekers.

Switzerland has been working with Eritrea to improve the repatriation situation, both bilaterally and as part of a four-country dialogue with Germany, Sweden and Norway. But negotiations have not yet realized a breakthrough.

Development funding has not been a waste of money, SDC Horn of Africa specialist Esther Keimer told SRF. “These projects have opened doors for us in Eritrea,” she said.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR