Veronica Almedom, advocate for Eritreans in Switzerland at the Obama school
The hyperactive 30-year-old is taking part in the Obama Foundation’s mentoring programme for future leaders
Veronica Almedom is not the type to put herself forward. But, whether she likes it or not, this Genevan is the shining face of Eritreans in Switzerland. This is a difficult cause, since the nationals of this country in the Horn of Africa do not have a good reputation. For a long time, they were the most numerous to seek asylum in our country. An exodus viewed with suspicion by the majority of elected representatives in Bern, despite the implacable dictatorship that reigns in Eritrea.
For once, Veronica Almedom is not calling to warn about the situation in her country of origin. She has been chosen by the foundation launched by former US President Barack Obama to follow its mentoring programme for young leaders deemed promising. She is only the second Swiss woman to be selected, after Flavia Kleiner of Operation Libero.
Waiting for the President
I didn’t apply for anything,” she says. I was recommended. Since January, she has been taking online leadership training. She is expected to meet the former president in June. She says she has always been impressed by his “charisma”, but also by his “humility”.
For the time being, the programme focuses on exchanges between selected young leaders from across Europe. The Obama Foundation tells us that we will learn a lot more from each other,” she says. One participant from Ukraine had to flee her country. We tried to help her as much as we could. This event has brought us together a lot,” says Veronica Almedom. When you are defending a cause, you can often feel very alone.
In her view, the mobilisation to welcome the Ukrainian refugees is beneficial and necessary. It also leaves her with a mixed feeling. “All lives should have the same value and the threshold of welcome must be raised for all those fleeing other war crimes. We don’t talk enough about the war in Ethiopia, for example,” she pleads.
Veronica Almedom’s commitment has matured gradually. Like many Eritreans, her parents went into exile at a very young age. “With my sister, we always knew where we came from. There were no taboos,” she says. In 2004, the family visited relatives who had stayed behind. At the age of 15, Veronica Almedom remembers being shocked by police violence in the street. Her last trip there in 2010 was a “shock”, she recalls. “The capital, Asmara, had emptied. Friends from our neighbourhood had disappeared, some were in prison for unknown reasons, others in military service for an indefinite period or still others in exile.”
Back in Switzerland, not knowing what to do, she started writing on social networks to raise awareness of the Eritrean drama. “Apart from finding myself in the crosshairs of the embassy here, I didn’t achieve much,” she admits. The turning point came in 2013 after the sinking of a boat off Lampedusa, in which many Eritreans perished.
She launched an NGO to humanise the tragedies experienced by the Eritreans. And it mobilised the diaspora throughout the world. As a culmination, two demonstrations bringing together tens of thousands of members of the Eritrean diaspora supported a UN commission of enquiry into the massive violations of freedoms in the country. “People finally felt recognized. For many who had suffered so much, it had a social healing effect,” she recalls with emotion.
For our meeting, Veronica Almedom had initially proposed the Reformers’ Wall in Geneva, the site of the first demonstration she had organised, “where it all began”. In the end, due to bad weather, we settled for a meeting near PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), a stone’s throw from the Place des Nations, where she was organising the demonstrations for Eritrea.
The impeccably dressed Veronica Almedom has been working in marketing for the auditor for a few months, after a stint in a well-known Geneva law firm. “My employer is touched by my work for the cause of human rights,” she says, fully accepting this great gap between activism and a large company. Both worlds have a lot to learn from each other,” she says, “and for me, the question of values will always be essential. She says she has no career plan and leaves “everything open”.
1989 Born in Rome and arrived in Switzerland when she was only a few months old.
2013 Organisation of the first demonstration in Geneva for the Lampedusa shipwrecked.
2014 Launch of the European campaign Stop Slavery in Eritrea.
2015 Co-founder of the NGO Information Forum for Eritrea.
2016 Appointed by the Federal Council to the Federal Commission for Migration.
2022 Selected as Obama Leader.
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