Swiss migration boss stirs refugee debate with Nigeria remarks

Hefty 99.5 percent Nigerians have no chance of staying in Switzerland, says new director

Bern, Switzerland (GenevaLunch) – Alard du Bois-Reymond, director of Switzerland’s Office for Migration, has been on the job only since 1 January 2010, but if remarks he made to Swiss-German media over the weekend are a sign of what is to come, tensions over the country’s refugees policy could rise. The director told NZZ newspaper that his office will be setting  up a task force which will bring together federal and cantonal offices to resolve what he referred to as Switzerland’s number one migration problem: Nigerians, the majority of whom are involved in petty crime and drug trafficking, he says.

“These people aren’t coming to Switzerland as refugees, but to make money”, he told NZZ, noting that 99.5 percent of Nigerians have no chance of being allowed to stay in the country.

His remarks prompted numerous negative reactions ranging from outrage to wonder that the head of a government office would stigmatize another nationality. Even populist media such as Le Matin went out of their way to point out that not all Nigerians are criminals, which du Bois-Reymond appeared to imply, interviewing asylum-seekers from Nigeria to tell their stories.

The Nigerian dilemma a complex one

Du Bois-Reymond’s comments may have been aimed at reassuring conservative elements in Swiss politics about reducing the number of illegal immigrants and reducing crime, several observers told GenevaLunch, but they have stirred up a complex debate.

Beat Meiner, secretary general of Osar (Swiss Refugee Council) says that while crime appears to be a problem, and that has to be dealt with, it’s also a a problem if the Swiss Migration Office lumps together as criminals all Nigerian refugee-seekers. “What we don’t feel is correct is to say that all Nigerians are criminals – but I don’t know if that’s what he really meant. There are, of course, plenty of Nigerians who came here legally, work here, have families, and now they are part of a stigmatized group.”

Blanket associations between asylum seekers and crime: cause for concern says UNHCR

Susin Park, the head of UNHCR’s (UN High Commissioner for Refugees) office for Switzerland and Liechtenstein, says the UN organization is aware that a large number of Nigerian applicants for asylum in Switzerland have been found not to be in need of international protection.

“If their claims have been reviewed on a fair basis and rejected, then we don’t have a problem with that; returns are part of a credible asylum system. However, there are also areas in Nigeria where people have reason to flee, and that has to be kept in mind, too. We are also concerned about generalized associations between asylum seekers and crime including abuse of the asylum system – that association is made a lot.”

Nigerians largest asylum-seeking group, doubled numbers in 2009

Du Bois-Reymond may in fact have been referring to actual 2009 figures: government numbers for last year show that Nigerians were the largest group of Africans applying for asylum, with 1,786 requests. Only one person was recognized as a refugee under Geneva Convention rules and just six others were given provisional protected status because they could face dangerous situations if they returned home.

Meiner agrees with Park that Nigeria is indeed a country that is creating legitimate refugees. It is larger than Germany and France put together, with more than 400 ethnic groups, mainly Muslims in the north and Christians in the south. There are strong tensions due to these differences, which are exacerbated by the economic situation: 90 percent of the country’s income is from oil exports, but only 1 percent of the population benefits from it and 84 percent of the population survives on less than $2 a day, according to a newly updated Osar report on Nigeria (Ger). Life expectancy has been falling and is now only 45 years. The rest of the economy, other than oil exports, is largely ignored, says the report.

“And then we have a very bad situation for human rights. In the past 10 years many people have lost their lives in conflicts, there are a couple million internally displaced persons living as refugees in their own country. There are many reasons to flee Nigeria. So this makes one ponder, why on the one hand we have such a difficult situation there but on the other hand these refugee numbers, for those accepted, are so low,” says Meiner.

Crime a problem, but needs to be kept in perspective say Nigerians

Du Bois-Reymond’s numbers outraged Mark Bamidele, president and CEO of the African Mirror Foundation, which recently set up an online African TV and radio service based in Bern. Bamidele says that while a majority of Nigerian refugee seekers are involved in petty crime it’s not 99.5 percent of those seeking asylum and “these are not drug dealers, they are boys peddling on the streets because it’s the only way they see to make some money. A lot of times they’ve never done this before.” Bamidele argues that Switzerland has to take more of the blame, since drugs are a problem of Swiss society. He believes more can be done to help with integration but also with weeding out crime, starting with the Swiss government working more closely with its resident Nigerian population.

“Why don’t they talk to the community” instead of arresting and trying to deport Nigerians, a process that can be lengthy. “If I go up to a Nigerian brother and I say, ‘look, if you want to stay in Switzerland, this isn’t the way to go about it’ he’ll listen to me.”

African Mirror is helping give Nigerians a voice, part of broader efforts by the Nigerian community to improve integration. After the death of a Nigerian at Zurich Airport shortly before he was deported, the foundation’s TV station interviewed the head of Switzerland’s Return Programme, Urs Von Arb, about the circumstances (interview in English) surrounding the death, offering a perspective different from that of Swiss media.

Beat Meiner agrees that the problem could be helped by the Nigerian community being more involved. “If the Nigerians in Switzerland could play this role it would be very good, as it’s important that Nigerian asylum seekers can find someone they can trust,” he says, pointing to similar work done with Kosovo refugees by the resident Kosovar community. But as he and another refugee organization observer noted, the reality is that those turned down as refugees are illegal immigrants, and there is no legal way for them to make money and stay.

Why the problems of many applicants, too few recognized refugees won’t be solved easily

The solution to the criminality problem is mired down by several difficulties, most of which are shared by other countries in Europe that welcome refugees:

  • It is often hard to uncover the real identity of an asylum seeker
  • The Swiss government in 95 percent of cases says the applicant does not qualify for refugee status, although these cases may continue to be reviewed under broader protection criteria. In half of these cases, according to Osar, a European agreement, the “Dublin Regulation”, assigns responsibility for them to another country, often Italy. Federal government statistics show that from 12 December 2008, when the Dublin agreement went into effect, until the end of December 2009, Switzerland asked other countries to accept responsibility for [ed. note: all, not just Nigerian] refugees in 6,041 cases and the request was accepted in 4,950 cases
  • The number of Nigerian refugees rose from about 989 in 2008 to 1,786 in 2009. Some NGO observers believe that the massive increase could be due to racial and economic tensions in southern Italy, causing many Nigerians who had been there one to four years to move north, although there is no clear proof this is the case
  • The interviews with the bulk of Nigerian asylum seekers are not convincing, but no one has yet figured out why they appear so unwilling to tell their own stories, says Osar.

Osar is an umbrella organization whose members, such as Caritas, work with refugees. Some 30 percent of its funding comes from the Swiss federal government because it coordinates the work of the NGO (non-governmental oganization) witnesses who participate in the interviews that are part of the asylum application process. The rest of its funding is private or comes from organizations, and its work involves informing the public about refugees and training people involved in refugee work.

Bulk of Nigerian asylum seekers remain a mystery

Meiner says that the information coming in from the various NGOs and legal groups involved in the interviews is that “the stories these Nigerians tell are not good – they are not differentiated, they’re too short, they often seem to be made up, stereotyped. We don’t really understand why this is so. They are mostly men, with  no families, no women, and they come from the southern part of the country.” He says Osar finds it hard to believe they are sent by organized crime gangs. “This doesn’t seem logical to us. Many of them take a long time before they come here from Nigeria,  and then they have no income when they arrive.”

He argues that fears of black magic and voodoo reprisals back home might account for some of the fear of saying who they really are, since this can be very strong in Nigeria. There may also be heavy pressure on them from those back home who helped raise the funds to come to Switzerland.

“The biggest problem, though, is identifying them. And we don’t really know if this new task force will be able to help with that,” says Meiner, who qualifies Du Bois-Remond’s remarks as “very strong.” He notes that the director made another “very strong and dangerous’ statement in the NZZ interview, that of the 350,000 Muslims in Switzerland 10,000 are radical. “There is no proof of this anywhere.”

New Migration head no foreigner to ferreting out abuse

Du Bois-Reymond is no stranger to heated debates over foreigners, but he comes to the Migration Office with a strong background in developing countries and Africa in particular. He is a native of Neuchatel, holds an economics degree in public finance and he pursued post-graduate studies at the Polytechnic Institute in Zurich, in developing economies. He then worked for several years for the ICRC (International Red Cross) in a number of African countries and former Yugoslavia before he became head of Pro Infirmis in Switzerland, a job he held for six years. He then became the association director of the Swiss Social Security Office, responsible for the AI (disability insurance) during a period when the office was mandated by the government to cut down on the number of abuses in the system, following a citizen’s vote for this.

A high priority for the office was to look into abuses by foreigners who benefited from the system.

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Comments

  1. I rather blame the rogue leaders that we have in Nigeria for the insult Nigerians get from countries with people that should otherwise be scrambling to get Nigerian Visa. By stealing all the monies and depositing them in Switz and other western banks, these people know that Nigerians are criminal right from the top. The Guy knows what he is talking about. Did you see any top government official challenge him? This is because they all have dirty hands, and have no chance of arguing their cases. How can a government official on a fixed salary lodge millions in a foreign bank if their is no criminal payload involved? Once again I plead for we Nigerians to make haste and join the human race. I hope that our leaders are noting this.

  2. omoregie john says:

    I WILL BE GLAD IF ALL THE NIGERIAN CAN AGREE ON MONTHLY DEMOSTRATION AGAINST THE DIRTY AND BLOODY MONEY BEING DEBOSITED BY THE EX NIGERIAN MILITARY/CIVILIAN GOVT IN SWITZERLAND TO BE RETURN– OR STOP INTOTAL- MILLIONS OF CHILDREN DIE EVERY DAY WHILE NEW ROADS ARE BEEN BUILT IN SWITZERLAND AND MORE ALSO SWISS GOVERMENT ACCOUNT FOR 40% OF NIGERIAN CRUDE OIL–WHERE IS THIS MONEY ? IN DIFFERENT BANKS–LETS START THIS PRESSURE AND I GUESS OTHER COUNTRIES WILL FOLLOW AND THIS WILL MAKE OUR LEADERS IN AFRIKA IN GENERAL EVEN IF THEY ARE CORRUPT –THE CORRUPT MONEY CAN NOW BE USED IN THEIR RESPECTIVE COUNTRIES—NO-MORE IN WESTERN WORLD BANK AND THESE EQUALLY WILL MAKE OUR BROTHERS AND SISTERS TO STAY BACK HOME–AFRIKA IS A BLESSED WORLD–WITH GOLD-DIAMOND-CRUDE-OIL COCOA,COFFEE JUST NAMED IT GOOD WEATHER –with our resources we can buy anything to make our world a better place to live in and i promise u, based on that they will again beg or scramble to get a visiting visa to Afrika countries

  3. ifeanyi says:

    Swiss govt. should as a matter of urgency define to the whole world the concept of SECRET banking. What more is more criminal than this……Aiding and arbeiting the corrupt,criminals and the maffians to secure their ill gotten wealth. Has it ever occured to Swiss govt. that by this singular act that millions have died and millions will still die due to starvation in Africa and elsewhere. The commonwealth of Africans are being looted daily by few individuals and with the aid of Swiss govt. stacked into their filthy banks.What moral justification does Mr Du bois Ramond has to label Nigerians criminals when he knows that the foundation of Swiss as a nation is based on corruption. Those who leave on glass house does not throw stones i presume.Africans nay Nigerians will cease to migrate to Swiss and other western world the day and if they desist from encouraging African leaders to steal from the masses to deposit in Swiss secret accts. We shall stop migrating when the western world desists from instigating crisis in Africa just for their selfish interests(to steal oil,diamond, gold and in turn sell their arms and ammunition to the waring factions)Africans will cease to migrate to western world when the western world plays by the rules and pays their taxes after doing bussiness in Africa rather than bribing revenue officials. It’s my humble opinion that Mr Du bois Reymond’s unguarded comments are borne out of ignorant and racism. I am proud to be a Nigerian and we’re blessed as a Nation and endowed with individual talents.The whole world should discourage hate speeches and promote peacefull co existence. Mr Reymond should tender unreserved appology to Nigeria as a Nation or resign honourable cos he isn’t fit for the post assaigned to him .

  4. Adun says:

    I just want to say a great thank you to all the previous commentators. All your remarks make sence to me and in a whole draw a picture of the problems Nigerians are facing in Switzerland.
    It just occurred to me after reading the article and comments, that if in fact only 0.5 % of Nigerians have a chance of staying in Switzerland, then the asylum and immigration laws of Switzerland are not made for Nigerians in particular and Africans in general. As these restrictive laws also apply for all other Africans. The Swiss laws therefore have to be amended to suit the real challenges faced by Africans in Africa: economic, politic, ethnic and religious crisis .
    The issue of crime is a clear one; if someone commits a crime anywhere, the person should be convicted by a state court accordingly. This applies to everyone: from an immigrat who sells illegal drugs, to a banker who accept illegal money and a Pastor who abuses children.
    Let us face it, there is legally almost no way for Nigerians in particular and Africans in general to be legally admitted to Switzerland for work, training or stay; the chances of getting a Swiss visa or permit is maybe 0.1% or even less and so it is logical that many Nigerians or Africans as well as people from other nations have no other choice than to enter Switzerland or Europe without a visa and therefore seek for asylum. After getting to Switzerland the asylum seeker are not allowed to work, attend schools and are paid about 10 francs a day until their asylum application has been decided upon and declined in 99.5% of the cases as in the case of Nigerians.

  5. MA says:

    Maybe Nigerians should stop blaming every other country on earth for their problems, instead of finally pulling finger and getting their own country running. It’s the richest country in Africa in mineral resources, so why is it in such a shambles? Switzerland should stop building roads so that millions of children won’t die? How absolutely moronic. Typical, Africa’s never to blame for anything.

  6. […] Swiss migration boss stirs refugee debate with Nigeria remarks by Ellen Wallace […]

  7. temuz c.u says:

    Alard du Bois-Reymond, director of Switzerland’s Office for Migration, you said that;nigeria majority of whom are involved in petty crime and drug traffickingThese people aren’t coming to Switzerland as refugees, but to make money, thank you very much i have discover that your only good in keeping nigerian money in your country; when does criminal are packing our money out of the country sending it here in swiss you dont know that such a criminal act brings show down to the country and also inconomic crisis to the country and your happy when they brought the money to your country. A m not blaming you but i want to tell you that this is where our problems are coming out mosetly.We are not happy by hearing from you people saying that we are drug trafficking.

  8. […] head of the Swiss Migration Office, Alain du Bois-Reymond, sparked heated debates in Switzerland early in 2010 with remarks that even conservative Swiss media said wrongly implied […]