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Swiss deportation measures to be changed

Some of the restraining devices shown here during a simulation will no longer be used during forced deportations

(Keystone Archive)

Authorities in Switzerland have agreed to ban facial-gags, excessive use of force and techniques that limit breathing during forced repatriations.

Switzerland is also moving to train special police units charged with deporting people who refuse to go peacefully - up to 100 per year. In 2001, of the 8,551 repatriations, 99 involved forced deportations.

Potential deportees are also to be educated about the consequences of refusing to go peacefully.

The measures were approved at a conference of cantonal and justice ministers in Bern, and are now destined for a parliamentary debate.

Switzerland has been under pressure to reform its deportation practices following the fierce international and humanitarian criticism that emerged after the death of two deportees in police custody.

Tragic incidents

In March 1999, a 27-year-old Palestinian asylum seeker, Khaled Abuzarifa suffocated after being bound and gagged by his police escort at Zurich airport.

And in May of last year, a Nigerian asylum seeker, Samson Chukwu was asphyxiated at a detention centre in canton Valais. His death was linked to a police officer who brought his weight to bear on Chukwu's back as he lay face down.

To find a solution to the problem, Switzerland last year set up an inter-governmental and cantonal taskforce, called Passenger 2, charged with building a unified approach.

The co-chairman of the working group, Markus Mohler, told swissinfo one of the challenges facing lawmakers is the web of separate cantonal laws and regulations controlling forced deportations.

Mohler said Switzerland's constitution also limits reforms that involve civil liberties.

"Severe restrictions of personal freedom have to be based in formal law, which is in many cantons not the case," Mohler said.

"Many cantons have got police laws which regulate restriction of personal law, but some do not, which creates enormous problems with the execution of these repatriations.

Police training

A key measure agreed to by the cantons is a unified training regime for specialised police officers. The training - which begins in autumn - includes classes in psychology, conflict resolution, crisis avoidance, international deportation laws, as well as physical training designed to prevent fatalities.

"The people have to be carefully selected. They have to be experienced officers, police officers who have shown their experience in very difficult situation before - not necessarily [only in deportations]," Mohler said.

"We are convinced this training will guarantee a much higher quality [of police officers] than we have now. I must say, however, that police officers have so far performed their jobs quite well, but unfortunately there were some very bad and sad incidents."

Mohler said the proposed federal laws would ban the use of any measures that reduce the deportees' ability to breathe.

"This is very important not only with regard to measures in an aeroplane, but for [people] violently and viciously resisting arrest, as has been the case in the Valais [involving Chukwu].

"These police officers [involved] were not aware of the risk ... following such a physical restraint," he said.

Cautious welcome

Amnesty International, one of Switzerland's critics on the issue, issued a cautious welcome.

Spokeswoman Judit Arenas said Amnesty had written to Switzerland, alarmed that asylum seekers had died in custody.

"Switzerland has not been very ground-breaking." Arenas said. "In fact what it's doing is complying with minimum UN standards which, for instance, restrict the use of adhesive tape to restrain people during deportation, or calling for training for police officers and other people involved in deportations.

"It does hopefully put Switzerland in a position where the deaths that have really shamed Switzerland in the public arena will now be stopped."

Avoiding problems

The architects of Passenger 2 also believe the new measures could reduce the incidents of violent resistance.

By using more private charter flights over commercial services, Mohler believes many deportees will loose an audience in front of which to become violent.

Potential deportees will also be made aware of the consequences of resisting as early as possible.

"We require the cantons to have detailed information of people to be repatriated, telling them everything and also showing what happens if they resist violently, so giving them a chance to give in and say `OK` - which has not been the case all the time, "Mohler said.


Mohler said federal authorities were confident the new measures would alleviate international concern about Swiss methods.

"Never say never again, but I think we have done everything which should really prevent such tragic incidents which have occurred," Mohler said.

"Yes Switzerland has been criticised, but...we hear now from other countries that they're heavily interested [in the Swiss proposals] because it seems we're now the forerunners with regard to.... detailed prescriptions on how to handle these very difficult cases."

by Jacob Greber

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