Diplomatic relations between Switzerland and Eritrea are of low intensity. Both political and economic exchanges are practically non-existent. The sizeable Eritrean community in Switzerland has not to date justified the need to intensify bilateral relations.
Bilateral relations Switzerland–Eritrea
Key aspects of diplomatic relations
Eritrea was a part of Ethiopia until a referendum was held on Eritrean independence in 1993. Switzerland welcomed the referendum and seconded six observers to the United Nations mission responsible for supervising the vote. Switzerland established diplomatic relations with the new State at its independence in June 1993.
Two bilateral agreements entered into force, in 1999 (concerning air traffic) and 2002 (on balance of payments assistance). Since the 1980s, Switzerland has provided humanitarian aid and been active in development cooperation in Eritrea.
Trade between Switzerland and Eritrea is almost non-existent and varies greatly from year to year. Switzerland imports almost only pharmaceutical products, and exports primarily machines, pharmaceutical products, and optical and medical instruments. Swiss exports to Eritrea fluctuate between CHF 0.3 and 1.9 million, and Swiss imports vary between zero and some hundred thousand francs in value annually.
Besides these two agreements, the two countries have not concluded any economic or trade agreements.
That being said, Eritrea is not a country completely without its own natural and in particular mineral resources, nor is its tourist potential to be overlooked.
Cooperation in the domain of education
Scholars and artists from Sudan can apply to the State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI) for Swiss Government Excellence Scholarships.
Development cooperation humanitarian aid
At the end of 2006, Switzerland strongly reduced its humanitarian aid operations in the country, given the impossibility to guarantee its neutrality, independence and impartiality. Currently, Swiss Humanitarian Aid acts sporadically via contributions made by the ICRC which take the form of support for Eritrean refugees in neighbouring countries.
Swiss nationals in Eritrea
Less than 10 Swiss citizens are currently living in Eritrea. They are either Eritreans with Swiss citizenship (dual nationality) who returned to the country after independence or Swiss nationals working for the ICRC.
The history of bilateral relations
Relations between Switzerland and Eritrea are recent and of low intensity. Nevertheless there have been periods in the past during which links between Switzerland and Eritrea were much closer.
In the mid-19th century, the Swiss national, Werner Munzinger, became known as an administrator and explorer. For 20 years, he lived in different areas of Eritrea, working in the service of France, the United Kingdom and Egypt, for the latter in the struggle against Abysinnia.
During the war of independence, Switzerland hosted a considerable number of Eritreans fleeing the hostilities.
Since the 1980s and until 2006, Swiss Humanitarian Aid contributed to alleviating the suffering of populations affected initially by the war and later by the poverty as a result of the drought conditions.