The Swiss Federal Administrative Court in St Gallen has upheld the right of a Syrian asylum seeker to seek refugee status on the basis that he could be persecuted for refusing to serve in the Syrian army.
This is the first time a Syrian citizen will be able to seek asylum in Switzerland for refusing to serve in the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is facing a rebellion by a large part of the population. The court overturned the decision of the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM), which had refused to grant the applicant refugee status in August 2013. He was however given temporary right to remain in the country and would not have been deported in the near future.
The court felt that the Syrian conscientious objector faced a serious risk of persecution. It considered it highly probable that refusal to serve in the army would be perceived as a hostile act by the current regime and expose the asylum seeker to an overly harsh sentence usually reserved for political opponents.
The court also pointed out that since the start of the Syrian conflict in 2011, those who refuse to serve in the army of al-Assad are not only imprisoned in large numbers but risk torture and summary executions.
The judgement tests the scope of the scope of new provisions in Swiss asylum law that were voted in by the Swiss people in June 2013. Among them is a clause that states that Switzerland no longer provides refugee status to conscientious objectors and army deserters. This amendment was meant to limit the number of asylum seekers from Eritrea where all able bodied men are required to serve in the army for an unlimited amount of time on little pay.
The St Gallen court however said that the 2013 amendments do not prevent the granting of asylum to people who face serious risk of persecution and not just penalties for refusing compulsory military service.
swissinfo.ch and agencies