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Asylum seekers Switzerland outlines ‘responsible’ approach to repatriating Eritreans

A group of seated Eritrean asylum seekers are watched over by a security guard

A group of Eritrean aslyum seekers is watched over by a security guard.


The head of Switzerland’s migration office has defended the country’s right to send failed asylum seekers back to Eritrea, saying that people will not be repatriated if there is any evident risk to life or limb.

Two court rulings in as many years have cleared the way for Switzerland to repatriate failed asylum seekers to the African state. The verdicts dismissed claims that Eritrea is too dangerous to send anyone back or that enforced military service would necessarily result in abuse.

Speaking to the Blick newspaper on Wednesday, the head of the State Secretariat for Migration Mario Gattiker said Switzerland would not take advantage of the rulings to arbitrarily send back all failed asylum seekers. “Anyone who could face persecution in Eritrea would receive protection from Switzerland.”

But where no evidence of imminent danger exists, the migration office would expect people to return to Eritrea. “We would demand that people return to their homeland if they faced no danger as a consequence and if it is reasonable to do so,” Gattiker told the daily newspaper.

No cooperation

It is estimated that the court rulings could have a direct impact on just over 100 of the nearly 3,000 cases currently under review.

However, Gattiker confirmed that the Eritrean authorities are still not cooperating with either Switzerland or other European countries that want to repatriate failed asylum seekers. This is in contrast to neighbouring country Ethiopia that has agreed to facilitate the return of its citizens.

So far, only around 20 Eritreans have returned to their homeland from Switzerland, having voluntarily agreed to do so.

Since 2017, Switzerland has steadily tightened its admission criteria for Eritrean asylum seekers, who have represented the largest foreign community seeking asylum in the alpine country in recent years. Eritreans accounted for 3,375 asylum requests in 2017, nevertheless a decline of nearly 35% compared to 2016.

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