This is the first time that all the parties from the Left and Right wings agree on a question concerning Eritrea. For once, the rigor with which the problem is posed gives place to precise reasoning, fair, without caricatures, nor simplism.
In the German Swiss Rundschau dated 30 August 2017, representatives of the SVP, the PLR and the Greens reacted with surprise, shock, and even indignation when they learned that 40 tons of gold from Eritrea had been imported in Switzerland between 2011 and 2013, and were refined by the company Metalor, based in Neuchâtel. The gross gold in question was worth about CHF 400 million. On the other hand, once gold refined these 40 tons would be worth nearly CHF 924 million according to an estimate that appears on the website of parliamentarian Cedric Wermuth.
What is also shocking is the fact that these revenues are realized at the expense of Eritrean conscripts, many of whom have now found refuge in Switzerland. In 2013, Human Rights Watch was already loudly denouncing the inhumane working conditions imposed on Bisha mine conscripts. Employees work 12 hours a day, under temperatures of about 45 degrees. They also receive insufficient water and food. All this for the salary of CHF 15 per month.
This mining operation is the result of a joint venture between the state-owned ENAMCO (Eritrean National Minning Corporation) and Nevsun a Canadian company. Nevsun is also preparing to face a lawsuit launched by former Eritrean conscripts who sought refuge in Canada.
Another temporary indignation?
This is not the first time that the Swiss media have been exposing immoral affairs between Eritrea and legal entities based in Switzerland. Indeed, in February 2015, the Swissleaks revealed that approximately USD 699.6 million was deposited in an HSBC account in Switzerland. According to the Swissleaks website: „The largest amount associated with a customer connected to Eritrea is USD 695.2 million. „. (It was not indicated that the client in question was linked to the single party but there are obviously very high probabilities).
At present, the new scandal linking Eritrea to Swiss legal entities concerns these gold imports between 2011 and 2013. As mentioned above, revenues reach almost one billion Swiss francs, according to Cedric Wermuth’s estimate.
This inaction poses serious ethical and moral problems in view of the critical situation affecting the Eritrean population and consequently of Switzerland in view of the large number of Eritrean refugees it welcomes.
So, will this surprise and indignation of Heinz Brand, Philip Müller and Yvonne Feri be temporary reactions?
In the Rundschau report, the journalist asks Mr Brand and Mrs Feri: „In the future, should Switzerland accept to refine gold from Eritrea?“. Both answered in the negative. However, will these reactions translate into concrete actions? Also, would they respond in the same way with regard to the large amounts circulating in banks based in Switzerland?
It is necessary to adopt a behavior that goes beyond words and considered as „on the spot reactions“. Also, this case linking Metalor represents only one of the activities carried out by the regime on the Swiss territory. It is thus all financial activities that should be judiciously analyzed.
Direct link with migration
As stated by Heinz Brand (UDC): „I find it scandalous that Switzerland make such transactions with this country. Especially since we have so many asylum seekers from Eritrea and recognize them as refugees, and in so doing, we express the precariousness of the situation in that country. It is a contradiction in itself. “
Then, Mrs. Yvonne Feri (Verts), who visited the country on a controversial trip in January 2016: „From my point of view, this is totally reprehensible, morally and ethically just not in the rules, but the end result is d ‚on the one hand that, people come to us and seek protection and security, on the other hand, we earn money precisely from this regime.‘
IFE shares Mr Brand and Mrs Feri’s views. Nevertheless this reasoning can not be used only when it arranges the interests of the parties. It is a pragmatic reading that is necessary in order to resolve, step by step, the migratory crisis. This reasoning is necessary as long as the Eritrean people have their hands tied as they are on this picture taken in Bern on August 11, 2017 during a demonstration of Eritrean refugees whose asylum applications were rejected. Finally, this rigorous reading of the political problem will also be necessary as long as the population is persecuted and exploited without ever benefiting from exorbitant profits such as those allowed by Metalor. Eritrean asylum seekers who have fallen for more than a decade into a stateless person seek „protection and security“ as indicated by Mrs. Feri.
It is on this basis that the Swiss Office of Migration and the Administrative Federal Court must formulate their decisions. And not on a narrative style that does not please the auditors of the Swiss Office of Migration, as we see in the last two rulings issued by the Administrative Federal Court. It has been known for many years that „the Government of Eritrea has undertaken a widespread campaign aimed at maintaining control over the population and restricting fundamental freedoms„, as the European Parliament in its resolution adopted in July 2017.
„Not business as usual“
For obvious reasons and as the Special Rapporteur of the UN on Eritrea regularly raised it „it can not be business as usual with Eritrea„.
The tightening of laws against Eritrean asylum seekers will not result in an appeasement of the migratory pressure. This will only oppress the oppressed. Nevertheless, to refrain from contributing to the economic viability of the regime, as long as it produces such a large number of refugees, will be morally and ethically appropriate and it will also act as a disincentive to the Eritrean authorities.
Since the independence of Eritrea the government has never published any national budget. Nobody knows what the country’s expenses and revenues are.
It is through external sources that it is possible to trace part of Eritrea’s income. As for example, (1) profits related to the military bases of Saudi Arabia and the United Emirates through the port of Assab in the south of the country and (2) the annual reports of companies such as Nevsun. On the other hand, it remains difficult to estimate the reliable yet large income related to the 2% tax imposed on members of the diaspora.
There is thus no need to worry about the economy of the country, whose tiny population of 3.5 million people should not be difficult to serve, nurture and train. The problem is, of course, the questionable intentions of the Eritrean authorities and its willingness to redirect revenues in a responsible, transparent and adequate manner to the needs of the population.
That said, will we continue to perceive this scourge from an economic point of view or will we accept, once and for all, its political nature?