Lucerne complains about influx of Eritreans

Too many Eritrean asylum seekers are arriving in Lucerne, according to the cantonal authorities, who have sent a letter of complaint about Switzerland’s "overly generous" asylum policy to Swiss President Simonetta Sommaruga.

Lucerne complains about influx of Eritreans
A man waves the Eritrean flag in support of a UN report on human rights violations. Photo: Nichole Sobecki/AFP

Signed by Lucerne's cantonal social affairs minister, Guido Graf, the letter speaks of the “massive rise” in the number of asylum seekers, reported newspaper Le Temps.

Eritrea’s economic difficulties and compulsory military service do not justify the granting of refugee status in Switzerland; instead, “the massive exile is encouraged by our too generous asylum policy,” the letter said. 

In June, 122 out of 167 asylum applicants in the canton of Lucerne came from Eritrea, according to Le Temps.

President Sommaruga should “check if these nationals are really in danger when they return to their country. If the threat is confirmed, there could be grounds for provisional admission [to Switzerland],” Lucerne authorities said in the letter.

The letter continued: “We consider that the current practice of granting refugee status to people who are not physically threatened at the moment of their escape is wrong.”

The letter also drew attention to the number of unaccompanied minors from Eritrea.

“For us that’s proof that they are leaving their country for economic reasons, and not because of imminent threat.”

The letter outlines the difficulties in accommodating such children and demands more financial compensation from the Swiss federal government.

The latest statistics from the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) showed that Switzerland received nearly 12,000 asylum applications between January and June this year, up 16 percent on the same period last year.

More than half were Eritreans arriving from southern Italy, joining more than 20,000 already in Switzerland – the largest such group outside the North African country.

Pius Betschart, deputy director of the Federal Office for Migration told the Schweiz am Sonntag newspaper that Eritrean applications tend to be successful.

“The vast majority of the Eritreans are in need of protection under Swiss law,” he said.

The human rights situation in Eritrea has long been on the agenda of the United Nations.

On June 24th a statement by United Nations Special Rapporteur Sheila Keetharuth highlighted human rights abuses in Eritrea.

Forced evictions and the bulldozing of houses are an ongoing practice in the country, she said.

She also drew attention to the plight of unaccompanied minors crossing the Mediterranean who are “at risk of falling prey to many forms of abuse, including sexual, economic and criminal”.

Speaking to UK newspaper The Guardian last year Keetharuth said: “My work has highlighted the lack of rule of law, breaches of fundamental rights, with scores of reported cases of extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention and torture in detention – all of which give reasons to Eritreans to flee.

“The protracted national service, under conditions that often turn it into forced labour and create a fertile ground for other violations, is another compelling one.”

In October last year Eritreans were given refuge at the famous Einsiedeln monastery in northern Switzerland after an influx of asylum seekers caused all other reception centres in the area to be full.


Amnesty decries Swiss asylum centre abuse

Minors and adults housed in Swiss asylum centres have faced serious abuses at the hands of security staff, including beatings and chokeholds, Amnesty International warned Wednesday.

Amnesty decries Swiss asylum centre abuse
An asylum centre in the Alpine village of Realp, Central Switzerland. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

In a report, the rights organisation’s Swiss chapter detailed “alarming abuse” in the country’s federal asylum centres, and called for urgent government action to address the problem.

The report documents a range of abuses by staff of the private security companies Securitas and Protectas, which had been contracted by Switzerland’s State Secretariat for Migration (SEM).

Amnesty said it had spoken with 14 asylum seekers, including two minors, who reported having faced abuse from the security officers between January 2020 and April 2021, along with 18 current and former security agents and other witnesses.

The asylum seekers described being beaten and physically restrained to the point where they could not breathe or fainted.

Some also complained about trouble breathing after being doused with pepper spray, and being locked in a metal container in freezing temperatures.

The report found that six of the alleged victims had to be hospitalised, while two said they had been denied the medical assistance they had requested.

“In addition to complaints about physical pain, mistreatment and punitive treatment, these people also voiced concerns about (security staff’s) hostility, prejudice and racism towards the residents,” said Alice Giraudel, a lawyer with Amnesty’s Swiss branch.

Such attitudes had seemed to target people of North African origin in particular, she said. Some of the abuse cases, Amnesty said, “could amount to torture”, and would thus violate Switzerland’s obligations under international law.

In a media statement, the SEM said it took the criticism “very seriously”, but rejected the suggestion that abuses were taking place in a systematic manner in federal asylum centres.

It stressed that there was no acceptance for “disproportionate constraint” of asylum seekers, and vowed to “sanction all improper behaviour.”

Giraudel hailed that the SEM had recently announced it would open an external probe into isolated abuse allegations.

But, she insisted, the situation was alarming and required the government to stop looking at allegations of abuse as the work of “a few bad apples”.