Logo Seebrücke Schweiz

Put an end to forced returns! Right to stay in Switzerland for all!

13. June 2022

Maria, a 30-year-old woman from Eritrea, arrived in Switzerland at the end of December 2021. She applied for asylum at the federal center in Chiasso. The Swiss authorities refused to accept her on the pretext that she had been granted refugee status in Greece. At the beginning of May, she was transferred to the canton of Lucerne, which is responsible for carrying out forced repatriation. There they wasted no time. A few days later she went to the appointment at the migration office to renew her residence document. But there the police are waiting for her. She is arrested and taken to an administrative prison in Zurich. She is put under a lot of pressure by the police officers: either she takes the scheduled flight that was booked for her, or she is detained and forcibly sent back to Greece. She wants to leave a trace of her experiences and her despair.

Trigger warning: This text shows content that could psychologically, physically or otherwise shock people in some way. 

‘When I was 12 years old, I fled my home country Eritrea with my brother and mother and settled in Ethiopia in the Oromo region.’

I fled from Ethiopia three years ago for political and family reasons. Now there is war and a very big famine in this region, but nobody talks about it or does anything about it.

From Ethiopia I came to Turkey. After several attempts to leave Turkey by sea to Greece, I arrived on the island of Chios. I thought Greece was paradise; instead it was hell. I lived in a refugee camp for two years under inhuman, catastrophic conditions. I lived with a friend in a makeshift tent, with a gas cooker for cooking. In winter it was very cold, the tents are not suitable for winter and rain. We didn’t have enough blankets and clothes. The camp was overcrowded, the toilets had holes, the hygienic conditions were pathetic, there was waste everywhere. There was no running water and there was not enough food for everyone. The food that was available was very bad. It was absurd. No one should have to live in such conditions. We had no support from anyone, it was total chaos. Sometimes there were even policemen who chased us away like stray dogs or, at worst, beat us with their batons.

I applied for political asylum without even understanding what was happening to me, nobody explained to me what it was all about and what rights I had. In two years, I received 90 euros. When they gave me the permit, they told me that I had to leave the camp and take care of myself. I think they do this on purpose so they can easily issue permits, because they know that people leave the terrible camps and disappear into thin air. So, after two years I arrived in Athens, we settled in the street (Victoria Square). I did not receive any help. It was terrible, every night my friend and I we were afraid of being attacked. It was too dangerous, as a woman you risk being abused every day.

When I was in Chios, I was a victim of gang rape. I couldn’t talk to anyone about it and received no support, medical, gynecological, legal or psychological. I was alone.

But for the Swiss authorities, everything I experienced in Greece was not enough, they rejected my asylum application. I am just a number, not a person.

Extract from the negative decision of the SEM

They tell me that I have to go back to Greece on the streets, that my story is not credible enough:

How is it possible to be treated in this way? How can I prove that I was raped?

There is no dignity in Greece, no one should live in these conditions. I would like to look them in the face, those people who make the negative decisions from their offices, and have them explain to me how I can live with dignity in Greece: I am a human being, a person with rights, I am not a mouse.

SCHENKON crime scene: M. had to live here in isolation from society during her time in the canton of Lucerne. The isolation is intended to prevent social contacts from developing in Switzerland. This makes it easier for the authorities to deport her without complications.

In March, a friend of mine was woken up by police officers, arrested and deported to Athens. S. lived in the room with me, in Chiasso, in Via Motta. Early in the morning they knocked on the door, three of them entered the room, but downstairs at the entrance there were many, maybe a dozen. They handcuffed her in front of me, as if she was the worst of criminals, as if it was a crime in Switzerland to ask for asylum. They took her things and put them in a bag. S. told me a few days after her arrival in Athens that she spent three days, one in Lugano and two in Zurich, in police cells, cold, with nothing, three days without showering, and that she was repeatedly put under psychological pressure: ‘Either you sign the repatriation or you go to prison, you have no other choice.’ She tried to fight back, but after a while she lost hope and is now back on the streets of Athens, always in the same place (Victoria Square), without help, without protection, without dignity.

AMIGRA crime scene: On the morning of May 16, M. was arrested by the police at the Office for Migration in Lucerne and taken to prison in handcuffs. This was only supposed to be an appointment for an interview.

After a few weeks, it was my turn. I lived every day with the fear that I would be next. I was quite relaxed because I had a repeat application pending at the Federal Administrative Court. But nothing, everywhere I went they chased me away. When I arrive at the migration office in Lucerne, they arrest me there and put me in handcuffs too. They tell me: ‘You have to leave, go back to Greece.’ They take me to Zurich, I sleep one night in a cell without windows, at 9 o’clock a plane is waiting for me; if I don’t catch it, prison and forced repatriation. I don’t know what to do, but I no longer have the strength to resist, to fight, I let myself go….

POLICE scene: M. was detained at the Lucerne police station for 24 hours. She received no information about her situation and no food until the evening.

When I arrived in Athens, no one was there. The Greek authorities knew nothing, although Switzerland is obliged to inform them of my arrival. I am back where I started, again on the streets, again in danger, again without protection. Thanks to some friends I found a place to sleep, but I don’t know for how long…. What misery! Why does Europe treat us this way? There is war in Ethiopia too, why are we not treated like the Ukrainians?”

For several years, numerous NGOs (HCR, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Médecins Sans Frontières, etc.) have regularly denounced the situation of people fleeing in Greece. The assistance provided to refugees and asylum seekers is extremely precarious. People have no access to housing or financial support from the Greek authorities and often end up on the streets without any support [1].

Why do the Swiss and cantonal authorities harass men, women, children, vulnerable people to send them back to countries where there are no conditions for a dignified life? They are no longer human beings, but only packages. How is it possible to overlook the catastrophic conditions of the Greek reception system?

Scene of the Crime AIRPORT PRISON: M. spent the last hours in the airport prison before she was deported to Greece on May 18. Refusal to board the plane would have led to repatriation under physical duress. No one was waiting for her in Greece.

We demand an end to all deportations and forced returns, an end to state violence, for the reception of all people in need of protection!

Chiasso, June 2022.

[1] https://www.rts.ch/info/monde/12591862-des-ong-denoncent-la-precarite-des-personnes- au-statut-de-refugie-en-grece.html“