Swiss senate rejects call to speed up deportation of failed Eritrean asylum seekers

The upper house of the Swiss parliament on Wednesday came out against a motion pushing for Eritreans who have failed to win asylum in Switzerland to be sent home as soon as possible.

Swiss senate rejects call to speed up deportation of failed Eritrean asylum seekers
Eritrean asylum seekers at the Einsiedeln Abbey in Switzerland in 2014. Photo: AFP

The motion put forward by the right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP) comes in the wake of successive tightening of Swiss policy regarding Eritreans living in Switzerland on a temporary basis after failing in their bid to be granted asylum.

Those rulings stated that returning to people to Eritrea could not be ruled out in all cases, even when people returning could be forced to do national service.

Read also: UN condemns Switzerland over deportation of Eritrean torture victim

In the motion presented on Wednesday, SVP MP Andrea Geissbühler called for the Swiss government to begin talks with Eritrean President Isayas Afewerki aimed at facilitating the return of Eritreans to the Horn of Africa country. She cited a recent peace agreement between Eritrea and neighbouring Ethiopia as evidence the situation had improved in the region.

Currently, there is no bilateral agreement between Switzerland and Eritrea on the return of people to the African nation.

But Swiss Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga stated the Eritrean government had proved unwilling to negotiate on the return of people despite frequent attempts by Switzerland to build relationships and establish a diplomatic presence in the country, according to comments cited by Swiss state broadcaster SRF.

The senate on Wednesday also rejected a motion by a Geneva citizen’s group calling for the Swiss government to relax the policy towards Eritreans living in Switzerland on a temporary basis.

However, the senate did end up accepting a motion from Liberals MP Damien Müller calling for Swiss authorities to push ahead as fast as possible of a planned full review of Eritreans living in Switzerland after seeing their bid for asylum turned down.

In comments made to Swiss tabloid Blick, Müller said the State Secretariat of Migration (SEM) was “doing good work” but that the agency needed to “hit the accelerator” to ensure the politicians did not lose their credibility in the eyes of the public.

In April, the SEM said it would conduct a full review of the around 3,400 Eritreans living as temporarily admitted persons in Switzerland following the recent court rulings regarding their status.

A recent pilot review of 250 cases found that around 20 Eritreans could be made to leave Switzerland, a decision criticised by rights group who argue the situation in Eritrea has not improved.


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”.