Swiss Migration Office given slap on hand over ignored Iraqi asylum cases

BERN, SWITZERLAND – The Swiss Migration Office’s current backlog of some 3,000 applications must be completed and applications brought up to date by 2013, former Swiss Federal Judge Michel Féraud concluded as part of his final report on applications for asylum in Switzerland.

But the most damning part of his report covers applications from Iraqis at the Swiss embassies in Egypt and Syria, from 2006 to 2008: the judge writes that a Swiss Justice and Police Department decision in November 2006 to not handle the applications was not in line with procedures defined by law, and it violated constitutional guarantees.

Rigid system contributed to decision to ignore applications, backlog

His report implies that the blame lies with the rigidity of the legal situation, according to a Federal Council statement issued 11 January: all Swiss embassies are required to accept and handle asylum applications, although they are not equipped, in terms of staffing, to do so. The applicants, had they been turned down by Switzerland, would not have been obliged to return to Iraq, since they had been accepted by Egypt and Syria.

One of the debates that was taking place at the time was how to better distinguish between legitimate asylum seekers and migrants. The number of asylum seekers grew steadily from the 1970s, federal statistics show, and the resident asylum population peaked at some 105,000 in 1999. The number of applicants has been in the range of about 10-15,000 annually for the past decade just under 11,000 in 2007, with 15,567 applicants in 2011.

UNHCR (UN High Commissioner for Refugees) figures published in November show that the decline in applications for asylum occurred worldwide, not just in Switzerland, from 2000 to 2010.

Judge not suggesting legal pursuit

Féraud notes that, given the lapse of time and the Federal Council’s stated desire in 2010 to make the regulations less rigid, thus giving embassies more discretion in handling cases, he is not recommending disciplinary action. His investigation did not turn up any acts of wrongdoing such as overstepping the bounds of their authority on the part of government employees.

Blocher headed department in 2005, successors unaware of decision

Christoph Blocher was the federal councilor with responsibility for the Justice and Police Department at the time; his right-wing UDC People’s Party came in for heavy criticism inside and outside Switzerland in 2006 for posters seen to be racist, as the party campaigned to reduce the number of immigrants.

Blocher was succeeded as head of the department by Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf after he lost his seat on the council in December 2007, but neither Widmer-Schlumpf nor her successor as minister with responsibility for the federal office, Simonetta Sommaruga, were informed of the Iraqi applications and the decision to ignore them.

The report was requested by the Federal Council in August 2011 when it was made aware that the applications had not been dealt with for a number of years.

Féraud filed it 22 December and the Federal Council 11 January acknowledged publicly that it had received and is considering the report.