Switzerland signs deal with Sri Lanka to repatriate refugees

Swiss Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga and Sri Lankan Interior Minister Seneviratne Bandara Nawinne have signed a bilateral immigration treaty in Colombo.It will cover, among other things, the repatriation of Sri Lankans who have to leave Switzerland, swissinfo reported. “What we are codifying with this immigration agreement are the formalities on how the repatriations are carried out,” she said on Tuesday. Sommaruga, who is on a three-day visit to Sri Lanka, said the agreement would basically enshrine the current practice. Around 50,000 people from Sri Lanka live in Switzerland, mostly Tamils, who fled the island’s 30-year civil war that ended in 2009. Sri Lanka would like them to return, but certain Swiss NGOs are alarmed by the prospect, fearing people who return could be abducted, arrested or tortured.Sommaruga rejected criticism that Switzerland was sending people to be tortured. “As before, with this immigration treaty every person will be checked – whether they are in need of help, whether they are granted asylum and whether repatriation is possible and reasonable. Nothing has changed there,” she said.In July, Swiss authorities announced they would apply more stringent criteria for granting Sri Lankan nationals refugee status. They believe that the situation on the ground has improved since the end of the civil war.At the end of May 2016, 1,316 asylum applications from Sri Lankan nationals were pending at the Secretariat for Migration. In total, over 5,000 Sri Lankans have been taken in by Switzerland, of whom 3,674 have been given refugee status. A total of 1,613 have been admitted provisionally and potentially face the threat of expulsion. (Colombo Gazette)

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