Freed Swiss Taliban hostages escape bill

The Bernese escaped hostages arrive back home in March. (swissinfo)

Two Swiss travellers that were held hostage by the Taliban in Pakistan for eight months will not be asked to pick up the tab for their repatriation back home – in exchange for voluntary work.

The 32-year-old man and his partner, 29, both from Bern, managed to escape the clutches of their captors in a dramatic escape in March.

On returning home, the couple faced a SFr10,000 bill from the foreign ministry that had spent months negotiating with the Taliban and then arranged their safe passage back to Switzerland.

But the costs were waived after the pair agreed to undertake unspecified and unpaid work for the foreign ministry, according to the Sonntag Sunday newspaper – a report later confirmed by the authorities.

The Bernese couple were two of a growing number of Swiss nationals who get into trouble on foreign trips every year. Only a handful are kidnapped and held to ransom, but others have come unstuck in different ways after wandering into unsafe areas.

The costs to the state for helping distressed citizens abroad is rising in line with the numbers of people who enjoy travelling to exotic locations – sometimes with inadequate regard for their personal safety.

The state of affairs led to then foreign minister Didier Burkhalter, calling in March for “the need for reflection on the responsibilities of each person regarding personal safety and the limits of state intervention.”

Strained budget

This was not the first time that concerns have been expressed by the authorities at the cost of extricating people in trouble from abroad.

In 2009, foreign ministry officials highlighted that its consulate protection budget was under strain following the release of kidnapped Swiss citizen Werner Greiner from Mali. The tourist was snatched after visiting a tribe near to the border with Niger.

In June of this year, the government announced the creation of a new travel advice platform called Itineris. Swiss travellers that register can now get even more details both before and during their journey.

More countries have been added to the advice line, that is also available via Twitter and shortly to become a mobile phone app, together with more up-to-date information on the changing security situation in various regions.

It is also hoped that Itineris will make the search for missing persons easier.

The Swiss government’s policy is not to pay ransoms, but the authorities spend hundreds of thousands of francs supporting Swiss travellers abroad each year. and agencies

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