Zurich Airport, 18 March 2010. A Nigerian immigrant, convicted of drug dealing died shortly before boarding the plane on which he was to be deported to his home country. As a consequence, deportation of illegal immigrants was stopped. Diplomatic relations between Switzerland and Nigeria became strained.
Of the 1800 Nigerians who immigrated to Switzerland last year, only 1 percent were granted asylum. The rest are asked to leave the country. Those who refuse to move are deported forcefully.
Last week the Swiss government announced that a memorandum of understanding with Nigeria had been signed, allowing for “special flights” to be resume on 1 January 2011. A Nigerian state secretary insisted that Nigeria agreed “voluntarily” and his Swiss counterpart talked of a “win-win-situation.”
What’s the deal? First, Nigerian officials will be allowed to supervise the deportation process by being present on the air planes. Second, Switzerland proposes a “partnership for migration”, which goes beyond regulating the extradition of illegal migrants.
The partnership offers an education and training scheme for a limited number of Nigerians in Switzerland and aid for Nigerians who have to return to their home country. It also includes measures to combat illegal immigration and drug trafficking, for which Nigerians are infamous in Switzerland.
Swiss officials say this kind of partnership is unprecedented, at least with an African country. And indeed, it seems like a good example of a reasonable policy, which looks at migration from a holistic perspective.
Yet, not everybody is happy with the resumption of deportation flights early next year. Manon Schick, spokeswoman of Amnesty International in Switzerland, argues that the restart is premature for two reasons: First, the Swiss authorities couldn’t yet find independent observers who are willing to accompany the special flights as prescribed by international law. Second, the family of the deportee who died 18 March, has challenged the report on his death, published by the Swiss authorities. It seems that the cause of death was not clarified sufficiently.
If we look past such criticisms, the Swiss government has good reasons to push for the early resumption of deportations to Nigeria. In the face of a popular initiative which asks for the immediate and automatic deportation of any foreigner who committed a serious crime, it wants to show the people that it can be tough on criminal foreigners.
The popular vote on the issue is due 28 November, and the bill, promoted by the national-conservative Swiss People’s Party (SVP) is expected to get through. Arguing that the bill is deficient, discriminatory and violates international law, the government and center parties have proposed a counter-bill, which is, however, not much softer on foreign criminals .
So far the agreement with Nigeria hasn’t got much publicity but it comes at the right time for the opponents of the SVP initiative. They can now say: “Look, current deportation policy works alright, so why change it?”
Ultimately, deportation will always remain difficult, not as clean and easy as it seems in theory. The proponents of the initiative present forceful deportation as the perfect instrument that will solve all problems related to criminal foreigners. Yet, they neglect how difficult and costly it is to actually implement that policy and potentially deport thousands of people annually.
Rather than pouring millions of francs into deportation, we should invest more money and human resources into finding sustainable solutions that tackle the causes of immigration and related crime in the first place. Even though the details still need to be worked out, the agreement with Nigeria makes for a good start.