Switzerland – Eritrea Gold Trade Activity and its Implications: Updates from Annelies Djellal-Müller

On 31/08/2017, I wrote a news report about a secret unrefined gold trade activity that was going on between Eritrea and Switzerland between 2011 and 2013. This secret was revealed after journalists produced an investigative report which was broadcasted by SFR Tv channel.   As a continuation, I am sharing this update report originally written by Annelies Djellal-Müller on her facebook page. I am publishing the material as I found it important to share as an update upon request. 

Dear Eritrean friends worldwide

During the past week, two relevant developments concerning Eritrea took place in Switzerland. I’d like to keep you updated and – for the sake of the many affected Eritrean asylum seekers in Switzerland – I would kindly ask you to raise your voices in any way possible regading your current situation.


A report aired on Swiss television showed Switzerland’s involvement in gold exports from Eritrea during the years 2011 – 2013.

Schweizer Geschäfte mit einem geächteten Regime

The research was done after Dr. Daniel Rezene Mekonnen (and friends) pointed out to journalist Georg Humbel that Swiss companies imported gold from the Bisha mine in Eritrea in order to finalize its proccessing through the so-called proccedure of “smelting” which could not be done in Eritrea itself.

Three weeks before, US-based Eritrean journalist Abraham Zere travelled to Switzerland and hinted at Swiss French Television that both the Swiss National Banc and the Zurich cantonal banc up to date held shares worth more than 1 million Swiss francs at Nevsun LTD.

La Banque nationale suisse (BNS) et la Banque cantonale de Zurich investissent dans Nevsun Resources accusée de complicité dans l’utilisation de travail forcé en Erythrée ; avec la réponse des banques


Just one day later (what a surprise, especially when remembering that the law enforcement against Eritrean asylum seekers had been published already on the very same day when the huge demonstration in favour of the UN-report took place in Geneva on 23rd of June 2016), our Federal administrative court, the last instance having the competence to rule over appeals against asylum decisions issued by the State Secretariat for Migration, published its long-awaited landmark verdict on whether it is within the law to send Eritrean refugges back to their country of origin.

Funnily, if you have a look at the verdict, you will see that it was already issued on August 17 2017. When keeping the principle of balance of power in mind, this “coincidence” must appear more than strange. You will find the verdict (D-2311/2016)
as well as the press release on the website of the Federal Administrative court.

After the very same court ruled on Jan 30ieth 2017 that the single claim of having left Eritrea illegally was no longer sufficient to gain temporary admittance (for possible dangers of persecution in case of a push-back to Eritrea), the Federal Administrative Court now rules that persons who have (presumably) been released from the military service could no longer fulfil the qualitiy as a refugee for they will not be persecuted after returning to Eritrea.

Three points are of main importance when looking at the verdict:

  1. Credibility (according to Art. 7 Swiss asylum law and defined under 5.1 in the verdict).
  2. The claim concerning the illegal exit (Art. 54 Swiss asylum law and thus defined under 6.1 – 6.3) and
  3. The question whether it is possible to return persons back to Eritrea (Art. 3 and 4 EHRC, illustrated under point 8.1ff).

In brief:

The court reaches the conclusion that persons can be sent back to Eritrea when they have (presumably) been released from military service (in its Press release, the court uses the term “veteran” in order to make public believe that it is referring to elderly people, which in the case herein is not true). This, it resumes, is possible after people “regularize” their relationship with the Eritrean government (mainly by paying the 2% tax and signing the repentence form).

It also refers to the so-called diaspora status and to the fact that many people are going back to Eritrea even after having left Eritrea illegally. It doesn’t take notice of the fact, however, that government-friendly groups practically agitate freely and without restriction in Switzerland and that these very groups instrumentalize and target newly arrived refugees deliberately in order to missuse them for their propaganda.

Several human rights groups have strongly criticized the verdict. The Swiss refugee council calls it as “not understandable”.

Rückkehr nach Eritrea nicht generell unzumutbar

Ms. Denise Graf, director of Amnesty international Switzerland, states that it was irresponsible to issue such a verdict as long not even un-delegates are permitted access to the country.

Rückkehr nach Eritrea nicht generell unzumutbar

The lawyer who launched the now rejected appeal to the Federal Administrative Court is probably the most knowledgeable lawyer when it comes to Eritrea-related issues. He has already strongly criticized the work of the Swiss “fact finding mission” to Eritrea of March 2016 on whise findings the State Secretariat for Migration reasoned its findings and the law enforcement of June 2016 thereafter. He states that at several points, the report of the “fact finding mission” violated the COI-standards by almost exclusively referring to government-related or at least -censured statements and reached the conclusion that its findings were therefore based on a very weak base of evidence. I write this, for, even in its actual verdict, the Federal Administrative Court refers several times to the mentionned findings.

  1. So concluding all this, my humble opinion about the current verdict is: The verdict is politically motivated;
  2. The time of its publication was deliberately chosen in order to draw the public’s attention away from the “gold scandal”;
  3. The basis of the court ruling is extremely weak; in the current situation, no one can ever be able to grant that returnees will not be targeted after their push-back to Eritrea;
  4. As “credibility” according Art. 7 is the main criteria on which asylum claims are evaluated, the danger of arbitrary decisions and verdicts is extremely high; it will affects mostly women (for they often keep silent about sexual assaults) and people with low education and a restricted capability to express themselves. When it comes to alledged “contradictions”, we must also bare in mind that the first “interview” usually takes place just days after a refugee arrives in Switzerland. It is held short, and the refugee is told several times to only recount very briefly on his/her asylum claims.
  5. The verdict does not solve any problems for there is no treaty existing which would permit Switzerland to send the affected people back to Eritrea; instead, they will end up with 8 Francs a day with no perspective to participate in language courses or even receive a working permit. The danger that the will face serious psychological and even physical issues or that they will end up in criminal activities as a result of their inevitable situation is thus high.
  6. The pressure on our politicians to further involve with the dictatorial Regime in Asmara just for the sake of negociating the above-mentionned lacking treaty is high; This, in consequence, implies that human rights concern shall even will further be subordinated to political and even economic Goals – a fact that is another treason of the principle that Switzerland was a country that can be proud of its praized humanitarian Tradition.

As an activist and also a Swiss citizen, I am very concerned about the consequences of this verdict, especially because I fear that it could have further implications on the ruling in other European countries such as Germany (after Germany has enforced its practice on Afghan asylum seekers, e/g, Switzerland has soon after followed the example).

Please help to shed more light on what is really behind these developments and help us to raise public awareness.

Annelies Djellal-Müller is A Swiss Citizen Activist involved in the Eritrean Human Rights Issue



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