Swiss village fights deportation of Syrian family

Residents of the village have collected signatures against a decision that would see a woman and her two children reunited with her abusive ex-husband.

Swiss village fights deportation of Syrian family
Syrian refugees arrive in Hanover, Germany in April 2016. File photo: AFP

R.O. and her two children have lived in an asylum home in the small Swiss village of Hondrich in the canton of Bern since September 2016 after fleeing for their lives for the second time.

The first time was in 2015 when they left Syria to join R.O.’s former husband in northern Europe on family reunion grounds. She was granted asylum there.

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A year later, however, she and her two children forced to flee to Switzerland, where she has family, to escape an abusive relationship with a man described as violent. She says that the marriage was difficult even in Syria but she had hoped the situation would be better in Europe. This was not the case. 

On arrival in Switzerland, R.O. applied for asylum but was rejected. An appeal was then turned down after judges decided the family were not vulnerable and that they should be sent to a safe third country.

The northern European country where she had been granted asylum was ruled to be responsible for her.

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“The situation is dramatic,” a person from Hondrich close to the woman affected told Switzerland’s Der Bund newspaper. That person said R.O. was “well integrated” and was hoping to work in Switzerland so she wouldn’t have to rely on government handouts.

Her children, currently happily attending the local school, were described as well brought/up.

However, the family are all traumatised and in psychological treatment, doctors have said.

Now R.O.’s sister, her doctor and school authorities have handed in letters to the authorities in a bid to have the decision to send the family back to northern Europe overturned.

Families in Hondrich also put together a dossier for Swiss justice minister Simonetta Sommaruga with facts on the case and containing a petition with 89 signatures. In a symbolic gesture, children able to write also signed the document.

“We want the authorities to examine this case closely,” one local who asked not to be named told regional daily the Thuner Tagblatt.

“The decision could be judicially sound but at a human level it is an absolute catastrophe,” R.O.’s friend told Der Bund.


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”.