Switzerland could send back 3,200 rejected Eritrean asylum-seekers

Eritreans whose asylum claims were denied but were allowed to remain in Switzerland on a temporary basis could lose their status due to a court ruling last year. In recent days, they have received a letter from the government stating that their residence permit is being reviewed.

In August 2017, the Federal Administrative Court ruled that Eritrean nationals who had performed their compulsory military service in their country should not expect to be re-conscripted into the army or face criminal punishment when they return home. The court therefore considered that a return to Eritrea “cannot generally be considered as unenforceable”.

Because the federal authorities are required by law to regularly check all provisional admissions into the country, this ruling now has consequences for the asylum status of Eritrean nationals in Switzerland.

Provisional admission lifted

In concrete terms, the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) will examine the files of 3,200 of the 9,400 Eritrean asylum seekers admitted on a provisional basis.

“The SEM thus intends to annul the provisional admission and order the enforcement of the return”, state the letters sent to those Eritreans concerned.

On Wednesday (4 April), the spokesperson of the SEM Martin Reichlin, confirmed this information that was first released on Swiss Public Television SRF. He stressed that those concerned have the right to be heard and that each case will be treated individually.

According to Reichlin, the change in asylum process does not mean that all Eritreans will no longer be entitled to temporary admission. Those who need protection will get it, he added.

Tougher criteria

Currently, Switzerland cannot send back Eritreans to their country of origin. The Eritrean government has shown no willingness to receive those who have fled and there is no readmission agreement between the two countries.

However, the court ruled that deserters were not at risk of inhumane treatment. The same applies to those who have already lived abroad for several years and who have resolved their situation in their country of origin.

In February 2017, the court had already tightened the admission criteria for Eritrean asylum seekers. It ruled that Switzerland will no longer recognise Eritreans as refugees solely on grounds of having fled their country illegally. The policy automatically granted refugee status to some Eritreans.

However, the court decided, “The illegal exit from (Eritrea) cannot in itself justify recognition as a refugee” because of some recent cases of Eritreans returning safely for short home visits after gaining asylum status in Switzerland.

Eritreans were responsible for the largest share of asylum requests in 2017, accounting for 3,375 claims. However, this represents a decline of nearly 35% compared to 2016.

About 20,000 Eritreans live in Switzerland. In addition, Eritreans make up the largest national group of asylum seekers in Switzerland: some 5,000 each year.

Many leave the Horn of Africa state to avoid compulsory national service, which begins at the age of 16-18 (a varying figure according to reports) and can last indefinitely. 

© swissinfo.ch

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