Hans-Ulrich Stauffer: "The tunnel view of the human rights situation does not do justice to Eritrea."
By Samuel Schumacher
The Basler Jurist and Eritrea expert Hans-Ulrich Stauffer has a positive picture of Eritrea in his new book. He wants to "stifle" the discussion, as he explains in an interview with "Switzerland on the weekend".
Q: Mr. Stauffer, your book is called "Eritrea - the second glance". Is Eritrea different from what we suspect at first sight?
Hans-Ulrich Stauffer: Our Eritrea picture is characterized by the fact that some 35,000 Eritreans came to Switzerland as refugees. Such a great escape movement leads to questions and assumptions about the motivation. I understand that refugees represent their situation as drastically as possible in order to receive asylum.
Q: So your book is a corrective?
Hans-Ulrich Stauffer: The discussion about Eritrea is about to kick off. I believe that the current debate does not do justice to the country. Many Eritrean developments are not addressed at all: Eritrea has reached six of the eight Millennium Development Goals of the United Nations, food supply is guaranteed, child mortality is lower than in other African countries, and girls' pruning rates are declining.
Q: Nevertheless, Eritrea is on the 186th rank of 188 on the index of human development. There are also serious human rights violations.
Hans-Ulrich Stauffer: The tunnel view of the human rights situation does not do justice to the country. We should consider Eritrea through the same lens as other countries. When I was in Eritrea recently, an ambassador told me: Today is Friday, today is being handed over again in Saudi Arabia. These are also human rights violations. Nevertheless, half the world maintains economic relations with the Saudis. I find this unequal treatment disturbing.
"For Eritreer the air in Switzerland is getting thinner" - read the article about the interview here.
Q: They want to put Eritrea in a better light and justify that Switzerland can negotiate a redemption with the regime.
Hans-Ulrich Stauffer: I leave the assessment of the refugee question to others. Without giving the young people in Eritrea a perspective, they will continue to leave the country in large numbers. The information about life in Europe is coming to home. And whoever hears that he receives 900 Swiss social aid a month in Switzerland will start his journey without knowing that you can barely survive here with 900 francs. In addition, other nationals also use the "Eritrea bonus" in Switzerland: around 30 percent of the alleged Eritrean refugees are not Eritreans.
Q: Do you think that as a European you can see the "true Eritrea" during a visit to the country?
Hans-Ulrich Stauffer: I could move freely and without accompaniment. The statements in my book are based on more than 100 interviews with people from simple farmers to ministers. I do not think that all the actors paid by the regime were paid.
Q: They write that it is the lack of economic perspective and not the compulsion to the National Service, the young Eritreans moved to escape. Many Eritreans argue about this. They say: What are the economic prospects for me when I have to serve my half-life as a soldier?
Hans-Ulrich Stauffer: Only a small part Eritreans in the national service must enter the military. Many work during the period in civil professions, where they have recently earned 3000 Nakfa (about 200 francs, note) in the month. That is a lot for African conditions. It is true, however, that the actual unlimited duration of the national service is a problem.
Q: And then there are about 10,000 political prisoners.
Hans-Ulrich Stauffer: This number has been put into the world years ago. There are no documents for this. I have very good sources which I can not disclose, which go out from less than 100 real political prisoners. But that is too much!
Q: A recent decision of the Federal Administrative Court states that the illegal exit from Eritrea alone is no longer a reason for asylum. Is that correct?
Hans-Ulrich Stauffer: The decision corrects a decision of 2005, granted asylum to a deserter. This decision has led to a boom in Eritrean asylum applications in Switzerland. The message was clear: in Switzerland, you just have to say you were cut off by the National Service, and you get asylum. The new judgment corrects this maladministration.
Q: You can not return Eritreans anyway. The regime does not want to take them back.
Hans-Ulrich Stauffer: A voluntary return is already possible today. There are two aspects to be considered: where would all the young Eritreers be, if they were to return? There are hardly any jobs. Secondly, it is known that every Eritreer in the Diaspora sends money home and thus indirectly helps to keep the population's level of care high.
Q: Would Eritrea be a safe return country?
Hans-Ulrich Stauffer: This is going to happen. Switzerland would now have to negotiate with the Eritrean authorities, completely unarmed, in order to make possible, as a first step, the voluntary return of rejected asylum seekers. I spoke to returnees in Asmara, for whom the return was not a problem. The government in Eritrea has recognized that the young Eritreans who leave their country lead to a brain drain. This is why there is a growing trend of penalties for ex-refugees.
Q: What do you say to an Eritrean refugee in Switzerland who comes to you and says: With your book, you legitimize me to be sent back to a state of unrighteousness, and I must go there for an indefinite period in the National Service.
Hans-Ulrich Stauffer: I tell him: learn German as soon as possible and do an apprenticeship, then one day you will be able to return to your family and do some valuable construction work.
Hans-Ulrich Stauffer, "Eritrea - The Second Eye", Rotpunkt-Verlag 2017.