Swiss disappointed at asylum deal rejection

West African asylum seekers won't be sent to Senegal after all Keystone

The Swiss justice minister, Ruth Metzler, has expressed regret over Senegal's rejection of an asylum repatriation deal.

This content was published on March 4, 2003 minutes

Senegal's parliament threw out the agreement on Monday, citing widespread public opposition. The government then followed suit, despite having signed the deal in January.

"We are, of course, disappointed but Senegal is a democracy and they have the right to decide what they want," Jean Daniel Gerber, head of the Federal Office for Refugees, told swissinfo.

"They have decided not to ratify the agreement not because they are in opposition to its content, but they are in opposition to the way it's been presented to the Senegal public where there has been a lot of disinformation on the agreement," he added.

The foreign ministry said the agreement would have been an effective way of combating human trafficking and organised crime, as well as ensuring that human rights were protected.

"Switzerland is convinced that the problem of illegal migration can only be resolved through international cooperation and new measures," it said in a statement.

Under the agreement, West African asylum seekers who had refused to declare their identities would have been deported directly to Senegal, if their applications were rejected. Once there officials would have established their identity and returned them to their countries of origin.

The deal was the first of its kind with an African state, and had been hailed by Switzerland's Federal Refugee Office as a great success.

It was signed in Dakar on January 8 by Metzler and Senegalese officials.

Gerber said the Swiss government would not be discouraged by the Senegal decision and would be pushing ahead with negotiations for similar accords in West Africa, the rest of Africa and the Balkans.

No surprise

Swiss NGOs welcomed Senegal's move, but said it came as no surprise.

"Switzerland was the first European country which tried to negotiate with an African country on that kind of transit agreement. There haven't been any examples before, so that's about what could have been expected," Jürg Schertenleib, spokesman of the Swiss Refugee Council told swissinfo.

Schertenleib said there were two reasons why the Senegalese rejected the agreement.

"The most important aspect was human rights - the way rejected asylum seekers are treated," he said.

"The second reason is Switzerland is more or less isolated. We do not have cooperation in the asylum field like other European countries and that made it quite difficult for Switzerland to negotiate."

Schertenleib said the Swiss government would now have to rethink its policy towards West African asylum seekers.

He believes that a new treaty should provide for human rights observers to accompany rejected asylum seekers to holding centres in Senegal. Any agreement should also contain guarantees that rejected asylum seekers would be properly and fairly treated, he said.

The NGO says these measures would make it easier to conclude a new agreement with an African country.


The agreement drew widespread criticism in January, with some African NGOs accusing Switzerland of treating Senegal as a "dumping ground" for asylum seekers.

But Switzerland maintained that the agreement would bring fair rules to a process which is largely unregulated.

The Federal Refugee Office also rejected charges that it was trying to offload asylum seekers on Senegal, saying that those who were not deported successfully to their country of origin would have been brought back to Switzerland after 72 hours.

When it was announced in January, the deal was welcomed by the United Nations Refugee Agency, UNHCR. It said asylum seekers whose applications were rejected should be sent home to preserve the credibility of the system.

swissinfo with agencies

asylum summary

Senegal has pulled out of an asylum repatriation deal with Switzerland, just two months after the agreement was signed. Senegal said it had changed its mind in view of widespread popular opposition. Under the deal - the first of its kind with an African state - Switzerland would have been able to deport West African asylum seekers to holding centres in Senegal.

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