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Refugee tragedy Verdict upheld against Swiss border guard in Syrian stillbirth case

An artist's impression of the Zurich military appeal court and guilty border guard

An artist's impression of the Zurich military appeal court and guilty border guard (front left)

(© KEYSTONE / LINDA GRAEDEL)

A military appeal court has upheld the guilty verdict against a Swiss border guard who was found to be negligent in a case involving the stillbirth of a Syrian refugee woman whom he was escorting back to Italy in 2014. 

On Tuesday, the Zurich court said the 58-year-old man was guilty of causing simple bodily harm by negligence and of failure to comply with the terms of his military service. The charge of attempted homicide, put forward by the prosecutor, was rejected, however.

The appeal court thus partly upheld a verdict handed down last December by a Bern military court, which had found the border guard guilty of causing bodily harm by negligence, attempted termination of pregnancy, and repeated flouting of the terms of his military service.

The border guard's overall sentence was reduced: the court dropped the seven-month suspended prison sentence he had received, but his suspended fine was increased from CHF9,000 ($9,076) to CHF22,500. 

The guard had denied any responsibility in the stillbirth.

Read in depth the background to the case

The case dates to July 2014, when the Syrian woman, her husband and their two-year old son were travelling with a group of around 30 migrants attempting to pass through Switzerland on a train from Milan to Paris. She was seven months pregnant at the time.

Stopped at Vallorbe, near the Swiss-French border in northwest Switzerland, the group was ordered to return to Italy escorted by a unit of Swiss border guards. The group was initially transported by bus from Vallorbe to Brig in canton Valais. At Brig train station, where the migrants had to wait for two-and-a-half hours, the woman’s health deteriorated. 

In pain, she had to be carried onto a train at Brig. During the journey towards Domodossola (on the Italian border), the woman’s waters broke early, and she started bleeding. Her pleas for help, as well as those of her husband, were ignored by the Swiss border guard, the prosecution said.

The woman eventually collapsed on the train platform in Domodossola and her baby was later stillborn in an Italian hospital. Experts said the foetus had already died before the stop at Brig.

The sergeant-major told the court that he had not initially noticed that the woman was suffering and had only noticed her condition when she was carried to the train. He said he had then immediately informed his Italian colleagues that a person on the train needed medical assistance.

The prosecutor, however, had argued that as the person in charge, the border guard had been responsible for the Syrian woman and should have immediately requested medical assistance. He said it had been incomprehensible that he had not once asked her how she was feeling.  

Keystone SDA/SRF/sb

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