Refugee policy: Switzerland may send up to 3,200 Eritreans home

Hundreds of Eritreans granted temporary residence in Switzerland after seeing their bid for asylum rejected have received letters in recent days telling them their status is now under review.

Refugee policy: Switzerland may send up to 3,200 Eritreans home
Some 9,400 Eritreans have temporary residence in Switzerland. Photo: AFP

The move comes after the Federal Administrative Court ruled in August last year that it was reasonable to return Eritrean citizens who had already previously performed military service to the African country as they were unlikely either to be required to re-join the military or to face other punishment.

Following legal requirements, the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) is now reviewing the files of 3,200 Eritreans granted temporary residence in Switzerland with authorities stressing that people affected would have the right to a judicial hearing and that all cases would be dealt with on an individual basis.

Read also: Refugees in Switzerland lack the psychological care they need

People who deserted during military service are not affected by the review process.

Responding to questions from Switzerland’s SDA/ATS news agency, an SEM spokesperson on Wednesday said the review did not mean that Eritreans no longer had a right to temporary residence in Switzerland.

“Those who need protection should receive that protection in Switzerland,” the spokesperson said.

The Federal Administrative Court initially toughened its stance against Eritrean asylum seekers in February 2017 when it slammed shut an open-door policy toward Eritreans which had automatically granted them refugee status.

Previously, Switzerland had given Eritreans refugee status if they said they had left their country “illegally”. But the St Gallen-based court ruled that the policy was not justified particularly given exit visas are rarely given out in the autocratic country which enforces universal military conscription.

The Swiss Refugee Council criticized the decision to review the files of just over a third of the 9,400 Eritreans who currently hold temporary resident permits in Switzerland saying there was no indication conditions on the ground had improved in the Horn of Africa country.

But as Swiss daily Tages Anzeiger reported on Wednesday, Switzerland cannot at this time forcibly return people to Eritrea. The country has no wish to take back citizens who have fled and there is no bilateral treaty on the matter.

Eritreans were the largest group of asylum seekers in Switzerland with 3,375 applications coming from this group. However, that number was done 35 percent on a year earlier.


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”.