SWITZERLAND: Bilateral Repatriation Agreement Signed with Sri Lanka

A bilateral immigration treaty has been signed this week by the Swiss Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga and Sri Lankan Interior Minister Seneviratne Bandara Nawinne.

The agreement aims to strengthen cooperation with regard to immigration matters between the Swiss and Sri Lankan authorities, including issues such as smuggling and human trafficking. The treaty also outlines procedures for the repatriation of Sri Lankan nationals.

The civil war in Sri Lanka between 1983 and 2009 resulted in approximately 50,000 Sri Lankans migrating to Switzerland seeking asylum. In July this year the Swiss authorities announced that, as they believe that the situation had sufficiently improved in Sri Lanka, they would impose stricter criteria on Sri Lankan nationals who enter Switzerland seeking refugee status.

Of the 5,000 Sri Lankan nationals that have applied for asylum since May this year, over 3,500 have been granted refugee status. The remaining applicants have been provisionally admitted to Switzerland but could face repatriation.

The Federal Department of Justice and Police have stated that “the new agreement serves to formalise… the existing procedures for mutual cooperation with the Sri Lankan authorities with regard to the readmission of persons who no longer fulfil the conditions for continued residence in [Switzerland]”.

Sri Lanka is keen for their expatriates to return; however, Swiss NGO”s are concerned that people who return could still be subject to danger as the situation regarding human rights in the country is still unstable. Justice Minister Sommaruga explained that the new agreement will not affect the process of granting asylum, stating that, “As before, with this immigration treaty every person will be checked – whether they are in need of help, whether they are granted asylum and whether repatriation is possible and reasonable. Nothing has changed there”.

A board of experts from both Switzerland and Sri Lanka will be appointed to handle the repatriation process.

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