Swiss vote to expel convicted foreigners must not put refugees at risk, says UN

UNHCR staff member interviews asylum-seekers

30 November 2010 – The United Nations refugee agency today called on Switzerland to abide by the policy of no forced returns in order to protect refugees and asylum-seekers amid this week’s vote on expelling foreigners convicted of serious crimes.

Adrian Edwards, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), stressed at a news conference in Geneva that the principle of non-refoulement is a cornerstone of international law.

“It exists to ensure that no refugee or asylum-seeker is returned to a situation in which they face serious harm, such as persecution, torture or inhumane or degrading treatment,” he said.

UNHCR is appealing to the Swiss political parties to ensure that the principle of non-refoulement is “not put at risk” amid the current debate on expelling convicted foreigners.

According to media reports, 53 per cent of Swiss voters backed a proposal in Sunday’s referendum to automatically deport foreigners convicted of crimes ranging from murder to benefits fraud. Under current Swiss law, decisions to expel foreigners convicted of serious crimes are made on a case-by-case basis.

Mr. Edwards stated that for any asylum system to be effective, individual cases must be properly heard and legal remedies provided against being returned to a situation of jeopardy. “Any automatism in this regard would be at variance with fundamental tenets of the rule of law.”

Switzerland has ratified the 1951 Refugee Convention – the key legal document in defining who is a refugee, their rights and the legal obligations of States – and related human rights treaties.


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