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Asylum seekers lose bid to stop forced repatriation

Asylum seekers being bused to Zurich airport for their journey home


The government has rejected calls to halt the forced repatriation of asylum seekers from Iraq and Sri Lanka. The Swiss refugee office dismissed claims that the asylum seekers would be in danger if they returned home.

About 60 ethnic Kurds from Iraq handed the refugee office a petition at the end of a one-week protest march from Zurich to the capital, Berne. They said conditions were still too dangerous for them to be repatriated to northern Iraq.

But the refugee office dismissed the claim, saying reports from various international organisations had found that the human rights situation in the region had vastly improved, compared to the period 1994-97.

Switzerland lifted a freeze on repatriations to northern Iraq last October.

The Swiss authorities also threw out a request from Amnesty International to stop sending Sri Lankan asylum seekers home. In an open letter to the justice minister, Ruth Metzler, Amnesty cited the recent escalation of violence on the island and an increase in repression against the Tamil minority.

The organisation said 3,000 asylum seekers in Switzerland faced repatriation to Sri Lanka.

The refugee office rejected this figure and defended its policy. It described the repatriations as "prudent" and noted that only 158 asylum-seekers had been sent home last year and only 50 so far this year.

It admitted to being concerned about the fighting in the northern Jaffna peninsula, but said it always made an effort to repatriate Tamils to areas outside the conflict zone. It said it considered southern Sri Lanka and the capital, Colombo, to be safe areas.

swissinfo with agencies

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