Swiss launch enquiry after Syrian stillbirth tragedy

The pregnant migrant finally collapsed on the platform of the Domodossola train station, just over the Italian border from Switzerland User philstephenrichards via Flickr Creative Commons

Swiss border guards have been accused of failing to help a pregnant Syrian migrant sent back to Italy who later lost her child, according to Swiss public television SRF. The Swiss and Italian authorities are investigating.

This content was published on July 10, 2014 - 10:18 and agencies

The television programme “10 vor 10” reportedExternal link on Wednesday that a Syrian migrant couple, together with their two-year-old son, had been travelling on a train from Milan to Paris – which passes through Switzerland – when they were turned back at the French-Swiss border with a group of fellow migrants.

While accompanied on the train back to Italy by Swiss border guards, the seven-month-pregnant woman began to bleed, but her husband’s repeated pleas for help were ignored by the Swiss, he says.

“We wanted to escape the war in Syria, but what did we find here in Europe? Another war and the death of my daughter,” says 32-year-old Omar Jneid, whose wife remains in an Italian hospital.

Italian doctors who treated the 22-year-old woman say her child could have been saved if Swiss authorities had acted right away.

The woman had collapsed on the train platform in Domodossola, Italy – the first stop near the Swiss border – and had been brought to a nearby hospital by ambulance.

Liliana Graziobelli, a city councilwoman from Domodossola, said she was shocked at the lack of action on the part of the Swiss.

“A pregnant person can’t be treated this way in Europe,” she said. “The fact that this happened to our otherwise orderly and decent Swiss neighbours hits me hard.”  

Investigations launched

Jürg Noth, the head of the Swiss border guards, told Swiss public television he was aware of the incident and is investigating to what extent Swiss border guards were involved.

“I am deeply saddened and want to express my sympathy to the woman’s relatives,” he said.

The military justice authorities on Friday confirmed they were asked to examine the case. An investigative judge will have to decide whether or not to open criminal proceedings. 

A spokeswoman for the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) has welcomed the investigation. She also expressed concern about the incident. 

Noth added that the case falls under the repatriation agreements Switzerland has with France and Italy.

The Syrian couple in question was travelling among a group of 36 migrants from Syria, Ethiopia and Eritrea who were being sent back to Italy because that was their first port of entry into Europe. A group of 15 Swiss guards were responsible for them while they passed through Switzerland.

“We are obliged to carry out the repatriation,” he said. “This is the first such incident for us, thank God, and I hope it is the last.”

Syrian refugee crisis

Some three million Syrians have fled the country’s three-year civil war and are staying as refugees in neighbouring Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Iraq. Europe has accepted fewer than 100,000.

Syrian refugees are still registering at the rate of 100,000 per month in neighbouring countries, although the outflow has slowed somewhat in recent months, the UNHCR says. Asylum applicants from Syria to the European Union more than doubled last year to 50,495.

Switzerland has agreed to take on 500 particularly endangered Syrian refugees in connection with a pilot project announced in September 2013. Some 3,700 other Syrians have been able to travel to Switzerland to join their relatives and 3,500 additional asylum requests have been made.

Since 2011, Switzerland has pledged CHF85 million ($95 million) to countries taking in large numbers of Syrian refugees, CHF15 million of which went to Jordan.

Swiss Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga is currently visiting Jordan where she is meeting Jordanian politicians as well as representatives from the International Organisation for Migration, the Red Cross and the UN to assess the plight of Syrian refugees in Jordan. They now make up 10% of the small middle Eastern country’s population.

During her visit to the Zaatari refugee camp on Thursday Sommaruga said she was extremely moved by the plight of the 90,000 refugees living there.

"I touched the realities of this crisis with my own hands," she declared, adding that Switzerland must continue to show solidarity and help the refugees and host countries.

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