Swiss seek to deter African asylum seekers

An increase in human trafficking could account for the rise in the number of African asylum seekers Keystone Archive

Faced with a rising number of asylum seekers from Africa, the Swiss government is trying to forge repatriation agreements with African countries.

This content was published on July 24, 2002 - 18:54

In the past six months, the number of African asylum seekers has increased by 1,400 to reach 16,500. However, Bern has no repatriation agreements with African nations which in many cases either cannot or do not want to take back their citizens.

One reason why cooperation with African states is problematic is because registers destroyed during war makes identifying citizens difficult, Dominque Boillat from the Federal Refugee Office told swissinfo.

"For example, Sierra Leone has a lot of problems after ten years of war," Boillat said. "Other reasons countries don't want to take people back is because they already have too many internally displaced people as well as immigrants from other countries," he continued.

Logistical issues also complicate repatriation procedures.

War torn states top list

The majority of asylum seekers are fleeing Nigeria, Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Guinea, and Switzerland is hoping to reach an agreement with one or two African states by the end of the year, the Federal Refugee Office said on Wednesday.

Negotiations with Nigeria are the most advanced, Boillat said, although it is seeking several concessions from Switzerland before signing an agreement.

"For example, they want logistical help and training for their migration officers. They also want to get work permits in Switzerland which will be difficult because Switzerland's migration policies are rather strict with no free circulation arrangement with Africa," Boillat said.


There are about six million refugees living in Africa and only a small number of them reach Europe and an even smaller number makes it to Switzerland, Jürg Schertenleib from the Swiss Refugee Council, told swissinfo.

He argued that it was important for Switzerland to take the situation in each country into account when drafting repatriation agreements and not simply to push for an arrangement where all asylum seekers from Africa must be sent back immediately.

"We need to keep in mind that some countries are still involved in civil wars or have just finished them which makes it very difficult for rejected asylum seekers to return.

Human trafficking

An increase in human trafficking and smuggling could be pushing the number of African asylum seekers up, Boillat said. "European countries have also implemented more restrictive measures... with asylum seekers.

The third reason might be that some countries in Europe have readmission agreements with African states while Switzerland has none. So, I can imagine that people from Nigeria for example will come here instead of staying in Italy where they have such an agreement."


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