Even supporters are fleeing the regime: The Eritrean ambassador has applied for asylum in Switzerland

2024-06-13 21:12:15 Written by  Martin Plaut Published in English Articles Read 241 times
The career diplomat Adem Osman was the figurehead of the Eritrean regime abroad. Now research shows that he has applied for asylum in Switzerland. His successor confirmed this in a speech to supporters of the regime. He insulted the deserter as a "trait…
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Martin Plaut
Read on blog or Reader
Martin Plaut
The career diplomat Adem Osman was the figurehead of the Eritrean regime abroad. Now research shows that he has applied for asylum in Switzerland. His successor confirmed this in a speech to supporters of the regime. He insulted the deserter as a "traitor".
George Humbel 08.06.2024
Back then he was still one of the regime's favorites: Adem Osman (in the light suit) brought the Eritrean Foreign Minister to Switzerland in 2019. The picture shows the distinguished guest opening a party in Burgdorf.PD
He was the young figurehead of the aging government in Asmara: He had a Facebook account, was eloquent and spoke good English. Career diplomat Adem Osman came to Switzerland in 2016 as a beacon of hope. With the consulate in Geneva, he was able to take over one of the most important outposts: Osman not only represented Eritrea to the Swiss Confederation, but also headed the UN delegation in the city on the Rhone. When Eritrea was once again pilloried in the Human Rights Council, he listened stoically. Only to then say that everything was completely different. Eritrea is making great progress in human rights - reports to the contrary are Western lies and should be rejected, said the regime's prominent mouthpiece.
Now he has applied for asylum himself. This is extremely embarrassing for those in power in Asmara. Habtem Zerai, who was newly appointed as his replacement, insulted the man who defected: "For reasons known only to him, he betrayed the Eritrean people and applied for asylum in Switzerland," said the new ambassador at the beginning of April. "He disappeared without informing anyone," the new official complained to supporters of the regime. The "NZZ am Sonntag" has a transcript of his speech. According to the new ambassador, Adem Osman applied for asylum in Switzerland in April 2023.
With the Swiss flag and a portrait of Eritrea's long-time ruler Afewerki: This is how Adem Osman addressed the Eritrean diaspora in Switzerland in 2021.
Habteab Yemane was a judge and law professor in Eritrea. Today he lives as a refugee in Switzerland and is one of the important voices of the Eritrean opposition. When he was still a lecturer at the University of Asmara, Adem Osman was one of his students. "He was a hard-working and good student," says Yemane. He followed his former student's career with skepticism: "He rose through the ranks very quickly. I never understood how he, as a trained lawyer, could defend such an unjust state." The professor and democracy activist is pleased that his former student has now turned away from the regime.
Kafkaesque game of hide and seek around the ambassador
The whole story surrounding the top diplomat who jumped ship is full of absurd twists and turns: As early as September 2023, the CH Media newspapers had reported that the ambassador had disappeared. Adem Osman was currently at a conference or a meeting, it was said again and again at the time. The consulate obviously tried to keep quiet about the embarrassment. Things then became downright surreal on September 8: The "NZZ am Sonntag" met the diplomat on the street in Geneva. During the brief meeting, he claimed to be still in office. "Everything is going normally," said Adem Osman. He had long since applied for asylum.
Why this game of hide-and-seek? The secrecy can probably be explained by the fact that the diplomat was afraid for his safety. He obviously wanted to know first what his chances of asylum were before he finally broke with the regime. It is rare for high-ranking diplomats to switch sides. The most prominent case in recent years was the Russian UN ambassador Boris Bondarev in 2022. He resigned after Putin's invasion of Ukraine and also applied for asylum. He was under police protection for a while.
Adem Osman's life is unlikely to be easy either. The government's supporters hate the deserter. The opposition still sees him as a supporter of the dictator. The Swiss authorities have not confirmed the story for data protection reasons. And so the rumors about his departure continue to circulate. It's all about money: According to insiders, the Eritrean consulate in Geneva is anything but a normal diplomatic mission.
The consulate as a self-service shop for officials
All Eritreans living abroad must pay two percent of their income. This diaspora tax is an important source of income for the sole ruler Isaias Afewerki. Many do not want to pay this tax - but anyone who needs a service from the consulate is obliged to do so. In addition to the tax, the embassy charges horrendous fees and uses large campaigns to solicit donations. Adem Osman is said to have noticed that consulate employees were diverting funds on a large scale. When he stopped this abuse, he fell out with the clique of officials - that is what supporters of the Eritrean opposition in Switzerland say.
The case of the new ambassador shows how important it is for the foreign missions to collect money. is fundraising activities have made it onto Eritrean television. The new man in Geneva collected 12,845 francs in Solothurn, according to a news report by the state broadcaster. On April 1st, a large party was held in Gerlafingen by Eritreans loyal to the regime. On the sidelines of this event, there were massive riots that made headlines across Switzerland. "We have been criticizing for years that massive amounts of money are being collected for the regime at these festivals by those loyal to the regime," said opposition member Habteab Yemane. He is calling for such festivals to be banned.

The new ambassador to Switzerland visited all the cantons and collected a lot of money, according to the news report on Eri-TV. It meticulously lists how much money was collected in each of the cantons during this Tour de Suisse. 9127 francs in Lucerne, 6481 francs in Aarau and 4910 francs in St. Gallen - in total, Zerai is said to have collected over 50,000 francs for the state treasury in twelve cantons. The fact that he made it into the TV news shows one thing above all: how tight the regime is and how urgently those in power need foreign currency from abroad.

Last modified on Thursday, 13 June 2024 23:27