Swiss Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga and Sri Lankan Interior Minister Seneviratne Bandara Nawinne have signed a bilateral immigration treaty in Colombo. It will cover, among other things, the repatriation of Sri Lankans who no longer fulfil the conditions for continued residence in Switzerland.
In a statement on Tuesday, the justice ministry said the agreement with Sri Lanka established a foundation for strengthening cooperation with the Sri Lankan authorities in such areas as voluntary repatriation and reintegration, assistance in the fight against smuggling and trafficking in human beings, and migration management.
“In the medium term, the agreement can be extended to provide the basis for a more comprehensive migration partnership once further progress on human rights has been achieved,” said Sommaruga, who is on a three-day visit to Sri Lanka.
Around 50,000 people from Sri Lanka live in Switzerland, mostly Tamils, who fled the island’s 30-year civil war that ended in 2009. Sri Lanka would like them to return, but certain Swiss NGOs are alarmed by the prospect, fearing people who return could be abducted, arrested or tortured.
Sommaruga rejected criticism that Switzerland was sending people to be tortured, explaining that the agreement does not affect the asylum decision-making procedure of the State Secretariat for Migration.
“As before, with this immigration treaty every person will be checked – whether they are in need of help, whether they are granted asylum and whether repatriation is possible and reasonable. Nothing has changed there,” she said.
In July, Swiss authorities announced they would apply more stringent criteria for granting Sri Lankan nationals refugee status. They believe that the situation on the ground has improved since the end of the civil war.
At the end of May 2016, 1,316 asylum applications from Sri Lankan nationals were pending at the Secretariat for Migration. In total, over 5,000 Sri Lankans have been taken in by Switzerland, of whom 3,674 have been given refugee status. A total of 1,613 have been admitted provisionally and potentially face the threat of expulsion.
swissinfo.ch and agencies