Update: 11.02.2011

Switzerland refrains from returning refugees to Greece

In its press release of 26 January 2011, the Federal Office for Migration states that the present situation in Greece will lead to an adjustment of the implementation of the Dublin Procedures. As a reaction Switzerland will return to assessing relevant requests for asylum itself.

This decision by the Swiss government can be seen as a reaction to a verdict by the European Court of Human Rights published on 21 January 2011, sentencing Belgium and Greece for violations of human rights (Art. 3 and 13 ECHR) for refusing an asylum seeker the right to free and fair proceedings. The Dublin II treaty states that asylum seekers can be returned to their country of entry or the country in which they were first registered. On the basis of these regulations also applicable in Switzerland, Belgium authorities had returned an Afghan refugee to Greece as the country of entry into the EU. In the Court’s view, this procedure was wrong since Belgian authorities had to be fully aware of the inhuman conditions in Greek camps for asylum seekers and that the Afghan refugee would end up on the streets of Athens with no chance of receiving fair proceedings. Belgium and Greece have been sentenced to paying a compensation of around 26,000 euro.

Opportunity for the European asylum procedure?

Switzerland has apparently begun to refrain from forced return of asylum seekers to Greece and implementing its right to decide on all refugees which have entered Switzerland via Greece. With this decision, it followed the example of Belgium, Great Britain, Sweden, the Netherlands, Island, Norway and finally Germany who had stopped all forced returns of asylum seekers to Greece even before the verdict of the Strasbourg judges; other European countries are now following suit. Human rights organisations have been fighting for a suspension of forced returns to Greece for years and, for this reason, have warmly welcomed the decision of the Court, especially since it offers the chance of finding solutions within the Dublin II regulations which allow the member states to react to deficiencies appropriately in participating third countries. The verdict also offers an opportunity to adjust the whole system created in the Dublin II Protocol and to change the unfair sharing of burdens in the asylum sector, releasing pressure on the countries on the external Community borders.

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