Swiss court rules Eritreans who face national service can be deported

A new court ruling opens the door for the deportation of Eritreans who have failed in their bid to win asylum in Switzerland even if they if they face national service back home.

Swiss court rules Eritreans who face national service can be deported
Eritrean migrants after being caught by Sudanese border police in 2017. File image: AFP

In a statement dated July 10th, Switzerland's Federal Administrative Court (FAC) stated deporting failed Eritrean asylum seekers who had not carried out compulsory military service was “both lawful and reasonable”.  

The new ruling is the latest setback for Eritreans who have seen their bid for asylum in Switzerland rejected.

Read also: Eritreans in Bern protest against tough new asylum rules 

It comes after an Eritrean man appealed a deportation order arguing he would face national service on his return home. 

Examining the man's appeal, the FAC addressed the issue of whether military service in the African nation constituted forced labour – something which is banned by the European Court of Human Rights (EHCR) and which would therefore make the man's deportation impossible. 

The court noted that the length of public of military service in Eritrea was “hardly predictable and varies between five and ten years on average” and added that “various sources report cases of abuse and sexual assault.” 

But the court concluded that “although the reported conditions in Eritrean national service are difficult, they are not so severe as to make deportation unlawful.” 

The FAC went on to state the “ECHR only forbids deportation if there are reasonable grounds to believe that there is a real risk of a flagrant breach of the prohibition of forced labour.” 

Read also: Swiss teachers expect too little of migrant children – study

The court said the “abuse and sexual assault are not sufficiently widespread to have any bearing on this assessment”, adding that it did not feel that “anyone returning to Eritrea voluntarily faces a real risk of detention or any accompanying inhumane treatment”. 

The latest FAC ruling further increases the pressure on the around 9,400 Eritreans living in Switzerland on temporary residence permits. 

In August last year, the St Gallen-based court ruled 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. 

The Federal Administrative Court had 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. 

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. 

Read also: Politician offers kids 2,000 Swiss sausages after outcry after pork-free school lunch


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”.