Eritrean military service no grounds for asylum, rules Swiss court

In May 2018, Eritrean asylum seekers demonstrated in Bern calling for a more humane asylum policy for Eritreans. Keystone

Rejected Eritrean asylum seekers may still be deported to their home country even if they face being called up for compulsory national service, a Swiss court has ruled. 

This content was published on July 12, 2018

All Eritreans – both men and women – must complete national military service, which can last between five and ten years, according to Switzerland’s Federal Administrative Court. Service conditions can be harsh and there have been reported cases of abuse and sexual assault, it says. 

In a ruling published on ThursdayExternal link, the court said the requirement for Eritreans to perform national service in a poorly paid position for an unforeseeable amount of time “places an excessive burden on citizens”. However, this argument is not legally sufficient to prevent deportation, it added.

The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) only forbids deportation if there are reasonable grounds to believe that there is a real risk of a flagrant breach of the prohibition of forced labour. 

The Swiss court said that although the conditions during Eritrean national service are reportedly difficult, they are not so severe as to make deportation unlawful. It also added that cases of abuse and sexual assault were not widespread enough to influence the assessment. 

The court said in general that it does not believe anyone returning to Eritrea voluntarily faces a real risk of detention or related inhumane treatment. 

The ruling followed an appeal by a 21-year-old rejected Eritrean asylum seeker, who had argued that the prospect of conscription into Eritrean national service should prevent his deportation from Switzerland.

+ Read more about shifting policy on Eritrean asylum seekers

Since 2017, Switzerland has steadily tightened its admission criteria for Eritrean asylum seekers, who have represented the largest foreign community seeking asylum in the alpine country in recent years. Eritreans accounted for 3,375 asylum requests in 2017, nevertheless a decline of nearly 35% compared to 2016. 

In January 2017, the administrative court ruled that Switzerland will no longer recognise Eritreans as refugees solely on the grounds of having fled their country illegally. And in August 2017, the same court ruled that deserters were not at risk of inhumane treatment and that the same applies to those who have already lived abroad for several years and who have resolved their situation in their country of origin. 

Currently, Switzerland cannot force Eritreans to return to their country of origin. The Eritrean government has shown no willingness to receive those who have fled and there is no readmission agreement between the two countries. Meanwhile, this year 20 rejected Eritrean asylum seekers returned home from Switzerland between January and July of their own free will.

In compliance with the JTI standards

In compliance with the JTI standards

More: SWI certified by the Journalism Trust Initiative

Contributions under this article have been turned off. You can find an overview of ongoing debates with our journalists here. Please join us!

If you want to start a conversation about a topic raised in this article or want to report factual errors, email us at

Sort by

Change your password

Do you really want to delete your profile?

Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Almost finished... We need to confirm your email address. To complete the subscription process, please click the link in the email we just sent you.

Weekly top stories

Keep up to date with the best stories from SWI on a range of topics, straight into your mailbox.


The SBC Privacy Policy provides additional information on how your data is processed.