Swiss call for more repatriation assistance

Some asylum seekers are prepared to leave Switzerland voluntarily Keystone

Switzerland should further strengthen its successful assistance programmes for returning asylum seekers, according to the country's top migration official.

This content was published on June 12, 2007 - 19:50

Swiss policies aimed at helping people start new lives have seen 65,000 people vountarily returning home over the past decade, said Federal Migration Office head Eduard Gnesa.

"We have a very good impression [of the past ten years]," he told swissinfo in Bern on Tuesday. "Sixty-five thousand people have voluntarily returned home benefiting from Swiss repatriation assistance, including 40,000 to Kosovo and 10,000 to Bosnia."

Gnesa called the reintegration assistance programme a critical element of Swiss migration policy.

"Repatriation assistance offers only advantages," he said. "It's not just in the interests of migrants, but also of their home countries, as their socio-economic development is strengthened."

He claimed that Switzerland also benefited from voluntary returns, as they were much cheaper and more effective than forced returns.

"I wish we could do more in terms of repatriation assistance," Gnesa added.

The main challenge today is that some countries are not ready to take back their own nationals – even though they should under international law – but with [repatriation] programmes the problem can be solved, he explained.

The head of the migration office said that while continuing to provide support, it was just as important to talk to potential asylum seekers in their own countries to convince them not to leave.

Pilot projects, carried our in collaboration with the European Union, which inform the general public about the difficulties and dangers of travelling to Europe and limited work possibilities in Switzerland have started in Nigeria and Cameroun.

Migration cooperation

As a way of tackling illegal immigration in the future, Switzerland also intends to build migration partnerships with individual countries and regions, focusing on developing economic, social and medical programmes.

"In the future we want to do more with migration partnerships; it's clear [though] that some countries also want something in return," said Gnesa.

"The new asylum law serves as a legal basis for these partnerships," said Urs Betschart, deputy director of the migration office, which has recently launched pilot projects with Bosnia, Serbia and Kosovo.

Talks with these nations and regions are important, added Betschart, since they were now developing into transit points or host countries for refugees from other places.

Generous support?

Repatriation assistance for voluntary returnees includes a range of different measures, including counselling services, individual support and social and economic structural projects for communities and regions to help them cope with the arrival of returnees. The overall programme costs around SFr15 million ($12 million) annually.

Swiss repatriation assistance is granted to almost all returning migrants, independently of their asylum status or their particular country of origin. Only citizens from the European Union are excluded.

Asylum seekers who decide to return home can claim transport costs, up to SFr1,000 or SFr500 for adults and SFr500 for children, depending on how long they have stayed in Switzerland.

They can also obtain medical assistance and get help finding accommodation, as well as SFr3,000 towards a professional project to help them get back to work.

According to Gnesa, this approach has meant that Switzerland is considered a model by some of its European neighbours.

"Four or five years ago Germany came here to find out how our return programmes work. They took a great deal on board. Britain is another very good example. About two or three years ago they didn't give any return assistance support or projects [for returnees]. Now they are very successful with that," he explained.

swissinfo, Simon Bradley

In brief

Almost 68% of voters approved a tightening of the asylum law in September 2006. It was the ninth time since 1984 that Switzerland's asylum law had been amended.

There were 10,537 asylum applications in Switzerland in 2006, compared with an average of 25,860 over the past ten years and a peak of 48,057 in 1999.

According to the Federal Migration Office, approximately 10% of asylum seekers are recognised as refugees.

There were 8,859 official departures by asylum seekers from Switzerland in 2006, compared with an average of 21,819 over the past ten years and a peak of 48,974 in 2000.

Since 1997 some 65,000 people from 21 countries have benefited from repatriation assistance from Switzerland. Last year some 1,535 people received assistance.

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Tougher rules

Switzerland faces similar migrant challenges to those of other countries in Europe. In recent years it has received large numbers of asylum seekers, the majority of who do not qualify for refugee status or residence in Switzerland.

Return migration has in the past decades emerged as an important element of many governments migration policy, alongside strong border controls and effective asylum procedures.

According to the authorities, comprehensive return packages with generous incentives (housing, medical and financial assistance) still turn out to be much cheaper than prolonged stays in Switzerland or forced returns.

Swiss parliament last year adopted proposals to tighten the asylum laws. These would allow foreigners awaiting deportation to be detained for longer periods, cut social welfare payments to rejected asylum seekers, and exclude from asylum procedures people arriving without valid identity papers.

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