UN Migration Pact: Swiss ‘credibility at risk’ says Red Cross chief

The president of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) on Monday attacked Switzerland's credibility on humanitarian issues over its decision to delay signing the UN migration pact.

UN Migration Pact: Swiss 'credibility at risk' says Red Cross chief
IFRC president Francesco Rocca in Marrakech on Monday. Photo: AFP

Speaking to the press after the non-binding pact was approved by over 160 countries in Marrakech on Monday, IFRC president Francesco Rocca described the decision by Switzerland to hold off on approving the pact as “painful”.

“We trusted Switzerland when it was leading the negotiations. Now everything has changed,” said Rocca.

Switzerland provided diplomatic support during the 18-month negotiations for the new Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.

Read also: Swiss backtrack on support for UN migration pact

In October, the Swiss government said it would approve the pact, but in late November it backtracked and said it would hold off on doing so until the parliament had discussed the issues involved. 

Rocca said Switzerland’s “credibility” when it came to leading humanitarian discussions has now been seriously “put at risk”.

“Sometimes you accept something that maybe you don’t like 100 percent just because you trust the one [Switzerland] who is leading the discussion – just because you trust that he is caring for humanitarian action,” said the IFRC president, taking aim at the country.

The UN migration pact aims to open up legal migration and better manage migratory flows.

But countries including the United States, Australia, Hungary and Poland refused to put their name to the document over fears sovereignty could be affected despite UN guarantees that the pact is intended as a non-binding framework on cooperation.

The Swiss upper house, the Council of States, in late November voted that the parliament, not the government should be given the power to say whether Switzerland will sign the migration pact. The lower house, the National Council is expected to expected to make the same demand on Tuesday.

Read also: Aquarius migrant rescue ship denied Swiss flag


Amnesty decries Swiss asylum centre abuse

Minors and adults housed in Swiss asylum centres have faced serious abuses at the hands of security staff, including beatings and chokeholds, Amnesty International warned Wednesday.

Amnesty decries Swiss asylum centre abuse
An asylum centre in the Alpine village of Realp, Central Switzerland. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

In a report, the rights organisation’s Swiss chapter detailed “alarming abuse” in the country’s federal asylum centres, and called for urgent government action to address the problem.

The report documents a range of abuses by staff of the private security companies Securitas and Protectas, which had been contracted by Switzerland’s State Secretariat for Migration (SEM).

Amnesty said it had spoken with 14 asylum seekers, including two minors, who reported having faced abuse from the security officers between January 2020 and April 2021, along with 18 current and former security agents and other witnesses.

The asylum seekers described being beaten and physically restrained to the point where they could not breathe or fainted.

Some also complained about trouble breathing after being doused with pepper spray, and being locked in a metal container in freezing temperatures.

The report found that six of the alleged victims had to be hospitalised, while two said they had been denied the medical assistance they had requested.

“In addition to complaints about physical pain, mistreatment and punitive treatment, these people also voiced concerns about (security staff’s) hostility, prejudice and racism towards the residents,” said Alice Giraudel, a lawyer with Amnesty’s Swiss branch.

Such attitudes had seemed to target people of North African origin in particular, she said. Some of the abuse cases, Amnesty said, “could amount to torture”, and would thus violate Switzerland’s obligations under international law.

In a media statement, the SEM said it took the criticism “very seriously”, but rejected the suggestion that abuses were taking place in a systematic manner in federal asylum centres.

It stressed that there was no acceptance for “disproportionate constraint” of asylum seekers, and vowed to “sanction all improper behaviour.”

Giraudel hailed that the SEM had recently announced it would open an external probe into isolated abuse allegations.

But, she insisted, the situation was alarming and required the government to stop looking at allegations of abuse as the work of “a few bad apples”.