Bern, Switzerland (GenevaLunch) – The Swiss and Nigerian governments Friday 5 November signed a bilateral migration agreement, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that covers a series of migration issues. The MoU concludes 18 months of negotiations and the Swiss government Friday described it as having a “pioneering character”.
The two countries have been trying to resolve a number of migration-related tensions that reached a low point when a 29-year-old Nigerian man died at Zurich Airport 17 March 2010, just as he was about to be repatriated. The Nigerian diaspora in Switzerland has demanded more help from the Swiss with integration issues and Switzerland has asked Nigeria for cooperation with the repatriation programme for Nigerians who are sent back home when their request for refugee status is rejected.
Nigerians are by far the largest group of asylum seekers in Switzerland, with 1,786 requests for asylum made in 2009 but only one granted, with six given provisional protection.
The 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 that most Nigerians in the country are involved in petty crime and drugs.
Repatriation flights were suspended after the Zurich death, but they will resume in January 2011, with the two governments agreeing on a number of practical steps to improve the process, notably that both must be involved in repatriations.
Key aspects of the MoU, according to Bern, are: “cooperation in areas such as capacity building in immigration administration, migration and development, promotion and protection of human rights, regular migration, such as for example exchanges in the field of education and training, the fight against smuggling of migrants and trafficking in human beings and drugs, return assistance, readmission and reintegration as well as the prevention of irregular migration”.
The two countries will continue talks on other areas of cooperation, says Bern, including
“possibilities to further enhance the Swiss Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration Programme, successfully offered to returning Nigerians since 2005. Exploratory talks with Swiss companies operating in Nigeria were initiated aiming at identifying pilot opportunities in relation to vocational training for a selected number of Nigerian youth. In the area of migration and development, Switzerland will extend to Nigeria an already existing regional system for the identification, protection and reintegration of young stranded migrants and vulnerable children. Both sides agreed to further involve diaspora Nigerians in Switzerland in the partnership.”
They also discussed “bilateral trade and investment, the common fight against illicit assets, peace operations in Sub-Saharan Africa, the security situation in the Saharo-Sahelian regional area, the Nigerian chairmanship of Ecowas as well as the review of the Human Rights Council,” Bern noted in a press release. “In spring 2011, a group of young Nigerian diplomats will participate in a month-long training in Geneva and Bern, together with their Swiss counterparts.” The two groups will meet in Abuja, Nigeria in 2011.