After the demonstration, which Swiss People's Party politician Natalie Rickli filmed on her mobile phone, protesters handed authorities a petition signed by 12,000 people and addressed to Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga. The document called for the increasingly tough asylum rules targeting the group to be relaxed.
Friday’s protest comes after Bern announced in April it planned to review the status of 3,200 of the 9,400 Eritreans granted temporary residence in Switzerland.
That decision came 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.
Swiss authorities stressed in April that all people affected by the new rule changes would have the right to a judicial hearing and that cases would be dealt with on an individual basis.
But on Friday, protesters carried banners with messages such as “Eritrea is one huge prison”, “Stop negotiations with the dictator” and “We did not flee for fun”.
Annelies Djiellal-Müller, one of the organisers of Friday’s protest, stressed that the act of returning to Eritrea was highly dangerous. She told Swiss daily Der Bund that all people who left the country did so illegally, risking being shot when they did so then facing a dangerous journey to Europe across the Sahara Desert.
— georg humbel (@georghumbel) May 18, 2018
When people did choose to return, the Eritrean embassy then demanded the names of family members and friends. Once back in Eritrea, returnees faced possible punishment for having left the country illegally.
“Would you take that risk for yourself and your loved ones?” Djiellal-Müller said.
Switzerland currently has no treaty with Eritrea regarding the return of migrants but State Secretary for Migration Mario Gattiker said in April that this did not mean such returns were not possible.
Switzerland only has a returns treaty with every second country, he said, and while Eritrea does not accept the forced return of migrants, voluntary returns were possible, he told Switzerland’s Le Temps newspaper.