Eritrean asylum seekers rejected by Switzerland face life on the streets of Brussels

Swiss authorities have rejected hundreds of applications of Eritrean asylum seekers who are now legally obliged to return back to Eritrea. Rejected Eritreans are left out of the social assistance as Switzerland has tightened the admission criteria through the ruling of the Swiss Federal Administrative Court adopted on 10 July 2018. This recent practice leads to social disintegration and it brings a new wave of insecurity and fear among the Eritrean community living in Switzerland. Because of this situation, many Eritreans are currently residing on the streets of Brussels hoping to reach the UK. Young Eritreans speak about their experiences.

Samson[1], a young Eritrean refugee and asylum seeker, left Eritrea due to the human rights abuses he faced under the dictatorial regime in Eritrea. He sought refuge in Switzerland. He spent four-and-a-half years there before he arrived to Brussels four months ago. After two years in Switzerland, Samson received a negative answer to his asylum application. He appealed, but the court rejected his appeal and issued a legal obligation for him to leave the country. “I have never entered the national service and therefore Switzerland assumes that it is safe for me to go back to Eritrea,” says Samson.

The ruling of the Swiss Federal Administrative Court from July 2018 recognizes that Eritreans are forced into the national service, where they are forced to work under poor conditions and for an unforeseeable period of time. However, according to the court, “this reason alone is not sufficient to prevent deportation from a legal point of view.” The Swiss Revue reported that although the court has been convinced of ill-treatment during the military service, “it is not established that it is so widespread that anyone performing it would be exposed to the serious risk of suffering such attacks.”

Veronica Almedom, co-director of Information Forum For Eritrea, says that the Swiss authorities currently recognize asylum requests only on the basis of having already been drafted in the indefinite national service in Eritrea. “If you were in national service then you risk disproportionate punishment but if you have never been a part of it, be it man, woman or minor, then a person is not recognized as being exposed to such a risk of disproportionate punishment and does not qualify for asylum,” said Almedom.

For most of the Eritrean asylum seekers arriving from Switzerland, Belgium is only a transit country. They never approach the local authorities as they are afraid to be returned back to Switzerland on the basis of the Dublin regulation, which stipulates that a refugee should seek asylum in the first country they entered in Europe. Consequently, they are overlooked by the Belgian system and they are left to sleep on the streets, in parks or wait for volunteer organizations to occasionally provide a shelter for them.

As Samson and his Eritrean friend Yesuf explained, their biggest hope is to leave Brussels and get to the UK by trucks that transport goods. Faced with return to Eritrea, the young Eritreans are forced into desperate situations. Almost every night, a group of Eritrean refugees goes to a location where trucks are parked and they help each other to get on board when the trucks are open at night. There is always at least one person needed to shut the door from outside. Often, it happens that refugees are arrested by the police when they are caught while boarding the trucks. They are taken by a police for a day, or sometimes a week, and are released back to the streets. If people are caught and detained three times, they risk to be sent back to Switzerland. “It happened to my friends that they have been arrested and sent back but they have managed to return back to Brussels by train,” says Samson.

The ruling of Switzerland from July 2018 is irrevocable and it significantly reduced the margin for granting asylum that was possible before its adoption, says Veronica Almedom. Approximately 1000 Eritreans, including children born in Switzerland, were rejected by Swiss authorities and they are now left without any rights. This means the refugees have no right to work and no right to education in the country. Expressing her concern, Almedom said: “On the national level, I don’t think there is any prospect for change in the near future as the Federal Council and Parliament that are very right wing. However, we aim to push for better policies.”

Similarly, other EU countries have been trying to push the limits for granting asylum to Eritreans who become more desperate in search for protection and freedom. This happens even as Eritreans continue to flee due to ongoing human rights abuses in the country. Recently, French authorities deported Eritrean woman back to Eritrea who had tried to cross border with Spain after receiving rejection to her asylum application.

[1] Names of Eritrean asylum seekers have been changed to preserve anonymity