Switzerland has launched a new service, swissREPAT, aimed at providing assistance to cantons for foreigners being repatriated. The service, set up by the Federal Office for Refugees, will operate out of Switzerland's main airport, Zurich-Kloten.
SwissREPAT will provide advice to cantons responsible for repatriations, and it will lead foreigners through airport procedures. The service will also supply special agents in cases of forced repatriation.
The service will ensure closer cooperation among the Foreign Ministry's federal travel bureau, Zurich's cantonal police and airport police. By the end of October, it will provide assistance to all of Switzerland's main airports.
"The credibility of Switzerland's policy regarding foreigners and asylum seekers will depend on the success of this service", said Jean-Daniel Gerber, head of the Federal Office for Refugees.
Among SwissREPAT's functions is a basic service, which gives cantons general advice, selects itineraries and issues tickets.
A departure service, which is only operational at Zurich-Kloten for now, prepares and registers luggage at the airport. It also accompanies foreigners to boarding gates when necessary.
Recruiting police agents
Finally, SwissREPAT's special service will be responsible for recruiting police agents who will operate in deportation cases requiring a special escort.
To this effect, cantonal police directors have set up a task force, which is to name a series of experts who will establish guidelines for deportation procedures. The guidelines, which will be presented in 2002 at the Conference of cantonal police directors, are aimed at putting an end to a series of incidents in Switzerland in which deportees died.
In May 2001, a Nigerian asylum-seeker died of suffocation during deportation following what was termed a "fatal chain of circumstances" in a judgement concerning police officers involved in the procedure. In March 1999, a Palestinian deportee suffocated after being bound and gagged.
Two policemen involved in the case were acquitted, but the doctor who misdiagnosed the prisoner's breathing problems received a five-month suspended prison sentence.
Four percent of Switzerland's 10,000 annual repatriations are carried out forcefully.
swissinfo with agencies