Court: Swiss treatment of Afghan immigrant family went against human rights

A family from Afghanistan has won its appeal against the Swiss immigration authorities who detained the parents separately from their young children.

Court: Swiss treatment of Afghan immigrant family went against human rights
The Federal Court in Lausanne. Photo: Tribunal Federal
Switzerland’s highest court on Tuesday said the treatment of the family of six last year was “illegal” because it didn’t respect their human right to family life as stated in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). 
The case dates from May 2016 when an Afghan couple and their three children – aged three, six and eight – entered Switzerland illegally from Norway, via Germany, said the Federal Court in a statement.
At the time the mother was pregnant with the couple’s fourth child. 
Their request for asylum was rejected under the Dublin system, since they had already applied for asylum in Norway. 
However the family refused to be sent back, saying they didn’t have identity papers.
After a failed attempt to deport them on October 5th, authorities in Zug ordered the parents to be put in detention. The mother and her now four-month-old baby were placed in a centre in Zurich,  the father in another centre in Zug, and their three other offspring in a children’s home. 
They were prevented from having contact with each other because they were deemed a flight risk. 
On October 25th they were finally deported to Norway.
In its judgement the court said separating the family in that way should have been a last resort and only acceptable after an in-depth examination of other possibilities, something which did not take place.
Consequently, separating the family was “a disproportionate measure” in view of their human rights under article eight of the ECHR, said the court.
Speaking to 20 Minutes, Mirjam Klöti, a cousin of the family who lives in Switzerland, said they were still traumatized by their treatment and were receiving therapy. 
Though the court’s judgement can’t change how they were treated, they hope it will set a precedent for others, she said. 
“We fought for justice. For us, it was very important that this injustice was recognized by a high court,” she said. 


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”.