Eritrean Refugees Find Shelter at Swiss Abbey

The Local, October 21, 2014

After a harrowing flight from autocratic Eritrea, the last place Nuguse Teklestion expected to call home was the pastoral grounds of a Swiss monastery housing a mysterious black Madonna.

The 21-year-old fingers his large crucifix as he walks past grazing cows and immaculately groomed horses towards the towering Einsiedeln Abbey.

“I’m very happy that I’m in this place. It is peaceful and there are no disturbances,” said Teklestion above the sound of tolling church bells.

He is one of some 30 Eritrean asylum seekers given refuge this month at Switzerland’s most famous monastery in the country’s north, about 32 kilometres from Zurich.

Founded in 934 and, according to legend, miraculously consecrated by Christ himself, the Benedictine monastery’s Black Madonna is said to have a magical aura.

It draws more than a million pilgrims a year to the tiny, idyllic town of Einsiedeln.

But since early October, the monastery has transformed a building that usually accommodates pilgrims into a makeshift asylum centre, with around 80 Eritreans expected to pass through by the end of the year.

“I’m Benedictine, everybody who knocks at the door of a monastery has a right to be heard,” said Abbot Urban Federer, smiling behind steel-rimmed glasses, his broad gold and blue ring of rank hidden in the folds of his habit.

Influx of asylum seekers

And the central canton of Schwyz knocked.

“Like every other country in Europe, we have experienced a mass influx of asylum seekers, most of them Eritreans, since July,” explained Fiona Elze of the Schwyz migration authorities.

“Our reception centres were full,” she told AFP, and the monastery showed “exceptional readiness to help”.

Between July and September, Switzerland received more than 7,800 asylum requests–a 45-percent jump from the same period a year earlier–with 3,500 of them having fled autocratic Eritrea.

The wealthy Alpine nation is bracing for a total of around 25,000 asylum applications this year, up from nearly 21,500 in 2013.

The growing numbers are distributed across Switzerland’s 26 cantons, and Schwyz, with some 150,000 inhabitants, is required to take two percent, or around 500 people, Elze said.

“For a small canton, that is a demanding challenge,” she said.

Many Swiss cantons are dealing with the influx by opening up some of the country’s multitude of underground military shelters to house asylum seekers.

Schwyz also had that option, Elze said, but was wary of placing people in shelters without natural light.

“This is more humane,” she said, nodding around one of two bright, tidy, bunk-lined rooms that together can hold 32 men at a time.

As they are transferred into more long-term housing in the community, new asylum seekers will take their place, but all are expected to be out by the end of the year.

There is also a schoolroom where the men take daily German lessons, a saw mill where some of them work to make pocket money, and a kitchen for most meals.

A hot lunch is provided each day in a dining area near the heart of the abbey.

The monastery’s ornate Benedictine church with its peaceful gardens and stables set against the backdrop of rolling emerald hills alive with the chimes of cow bells definitely makes for a pleasant setting.

Most of the Eritreans here are, coincidentally, devout Christians, albeit Orthodox rather than Catholic, and many say they find solace in the spiritual settings and the tranquility of the church and the Madonna shrine–notably after difficult journeys to Europe.

Harrowing journeys

Several describe hiking across the Sahara desert through Sudan and into Libya, both assisted and abused by people smugglers.

And most, then, risked their lives crossing the Mediterranean.

“When we were picked up in the desert by the Libyan people smugglers, one tortured me badly,” said Teklestion, speaking through a translator.

“I almost died.”

Samuel Tesfmicher, 23, told AFP he was held in handcuffs for three months in Libya before being crammed into a boat that almost sank after days on the Mediterranean.

“Water gushed in,” he said, saying he feels lucky not to be among the more than 3,000 migrants who have perished trying to cross that sea this year alone.

Father Urban said he was moved by the plight of these men and was happy he could do his “spiritual duty”.

While many in Einsiedeln have embraced the project, others in the town of 15,000 inhabitants are horrified, he acknowledged.

Switzerland is among the countries in Europe that, per capita, take in most asylum seekers and resentment towards the newcomers is widespread, especially in conservative, traditional cantons like Schwyz.

“I have explained to them that they are not really welcome, and this is a fact,” Elze said.

“It’s simply honesty,” she said, adding though that “now that they are here we will do our best.”

Teklestion did not appear fazed, voicing hope he could get a work permit and become a productive member of Swiss society.

“I would like to get a job,” he said, “and then I would like to establish a family, to have a good life.”

Eritrean refugees in front of Einsiedeln abbey.

Eritrean refugees in front of Einsiedeln abbey.

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  • superlloyd

    Why does Switzerland have to accept any of these useless parasites? They are not in EU. Is this government mandated or is there a higher authority at work?

    • je suis paganisme

      Yes, they think that there is a higher authority at work.

      The think that as monks and Christians they must welcome the ten-thousand wretched Christs who come knocking at their door–“As you do it unto the least of these my brethren, so you do unto me,” said Jesus.

      So they house them, feed them, and then turn them out into society to be supported by ordinary working people paying taxes.

      It cannot go on. Something has to break. I am afraid the churches just might go down with the leftists, when Europa awakes.

      • They can just as easily “do unto the least of their brethren” back in Eritrea. But before they go, re-read the part about the Tower of Babel.

        I do agree with you that if these are the antics of many modern Christian churches, if and when the days of reckoning come, then the churches will be treated as enemy forces and dealt with accordingly.

        • Lord Sandwich

          I used to be very active in my church. I left after the big, “we need diversity” lectures. When Pete Seeger and Mandela died around the same time there was a sermon about what great men of peace they were. I decided not to argue that they were both avowed communists and subversives. I just left with my family and never went back. I’m still a Bible believing Christian and pray every day. I may eventually join a different one, but it may be hard to find one that values the actual cultural roots of Christianity.

          • ShermanTMcCoy

            We are called Eastern Orthodox.

      • Xerxes22

        These people really do think that they are doing God’s work and that this will get them into heaven. What happens to their country and their countrymen is irrelevant to them.

        • M.

          The religious folks of yesteryear understood what borders meant, which is why they used to do God’s work (however they may define that) in Africa and Latin America.

          There are many ways to do charity without being complicit in your country’s invasion and demographic replacement. The easiest one is to just send money to the tens of organizations that build schools, hospitals, etc. in the Third World.

          Bringing in refugees is definitely the worst way to do charity.

        • Lord Sandwich

          If they think that good works will get them into heaven, they don’t understand Christianity.

      • James Mayer

        Agreed. We need a new religion.

  • “I would like to get a job,” he said, “and then I would like to establish a family, to have a good life.”

    So would a lot of Swiss. But as time goes on and, barring a vast political change, they have to sit back and watch Switzerland slowly be transformed into Eritrea, they won’t be able to.

    “I’m very happy that I’m in this place. It is peaceful and there are no disturbances,” said Teklestion above the sound of tolling church bells.

    Not for much longer.

  • Adolf Verloc

    So it was felt to be “inhumane” to house these invaders in underground shelters that were suitable for Switzerland’s own military? No need to stop here. Given the fame the Swiss have in hotel management and the number of superb hotels in the country, they could accommodate these “guests” in five-star surroundings that would make them even happier.

  • IstvanIN

    I had hope for the Swiss, but I guess it will soon be over for them. “Christians” or not, they are not Swiss, or Europeans. I thought independence from Ethiopia was supposed to solve their problems? Rename the country Schwartzeland.

  • John

    “Switzerland is among the countries in Europe that, per capita, take in
    most asylum seekers and resentment towards the newcomers is widespread,…..” Of course it is. Their immigration and policies on asylum are being manipulated there by the same group of you know whos that are doing it here and everywhere else in the world where there is a predominantly white population. Globally, the white man in the street is adamantly and overwhelmingly against this drive towards white genocide.

  • OS-Q

    How can these nice youths not be offended by the religious iconography of a Swiss Abbey, not to mention the lack of surrounding diversity?

    • Germanicus

      Don’t worry, tgey know it is rude (and not very smart) to immediately turn on your host. Give it time for the worm to sink its hooks.

  • M.

    In the meantime: “A 75-year-old [white] American denied Swiss citizenship earlier this
    week, despite having lived in the country for 43 years, told The Local
    on Thursday that he is hoping for a “second chance” with the authorities
    who rejected his application.”


  • Steven Barr

    Switzerland, despite this, is probably the least insane country in western Europe.

  • Good grief. White altruism will be the death of us. Save your altruism for your fellow whites. You can do yourself good by helping a comrade, not a enemy.


      It’s like speaking to rocks, my friend! They’ve been so deceived and indoctrinated, they can’t see the approaching genocide right before their eyes! We have allowed our people to be deceptively conditioned into believing. That for us to insist that we as a people, a Nation and a culture survive, is the worst evil imaginable. Basically for us to do anything other than to hand over our birth right and die, is racist!

  • Katherine McChesney

    “Founded in 934 and, according to legend, miraculously consecrated by
    Christ himself, the Benedictine monastery’s Black Madonna is said to
    have a magical aura.”

    Hilarious considering Jesus died and was resurrected LONG before it was founded.

    But, the black madonna is also suspect. Sounds like a story blacks would write.

    • Ron Cheaters

      Now I’ve got that song in my head..
      “Lady Madonna, Children at your feet, Wonder how you manage to make ends meet”

  • OS-Q

    Livestock, such as Sheep, learn to “solicit” food from humans – meaning they will learn to bleat and bellow until the farmer can’t handle the noise anymore and gives them their treats (day-old bread for example) which quiets them momentarily.

    They have no incentive to not complain and the more they complain the more free stuff they get.

  • Thorsted

    I feel a dystopic atmosphere when I read many european newspapers about the invasion with use of Mahatma Gandhi methods. I read a French poll where 67% people said they felt alien in their own country-45% of the Germans feel that too. When people realized that the prized of tolerance is intolerable and with tolerance you are only asking for more -this will shift.

  • Bobbala

    I know why they are fleeing black areas … all the girls in the picture look just like grown negro men!