Federal Councillor Sommaruga on working visit to Sri Lanka and India

Bern. Federal Councillor Sommaruga is scheduled next week to conduct visits to Sri Lanka and India. A prime objective of the working visits is to intensify cooperation with the two countries on migration issues. In Sri Lanka, Federal Councillor Sommaruga will also be seeking to obtain a clearer picture of the status of the national reconciliation process and of the human rights situation.
Ambassador Walker, Chief Minister Wigneswaran, Federal Councillor Sommaruga
Ambassador Walker, Chief Minister Wigneswaran, Federal Councillor Sommaruga (Photo: FDJP)

The government of Sri Lanka has inaugurated a process for comprehensive democratic reforms. After decades of armed conflict, a new constitution is being drafted to help enable the country to come to terms with its recent past, to achieve reconciliation between all ethnic groups, and to strengthen the rule of law. Switzerland has been actively involved in Sri Lanka for many years now, providing humanitarian assistance and carrying out projects on human rights policy and in the fields of migration and development. It has also furnished the country with support for the reintegration of returnees and in the education sector. Switzerland would like to further intensify its efforts in Sri Lanka in order to assist with the ongoing reform process.

For Switzerland a matter of special importance

Sri Lanka has for many years played an especially important role in Switzerland's foreign policy on migration. In the wake of the armed conflict in that country, many displaced persons sought a safe haven in Switzerland. Today, some 50 000 people from Sri Lanka live in Switzerland; approximately one half have in the intervening years been granted Swiss citizenship. Switzerland is thus home to a relatively large diaspora as compared with the countries of the European Union. In 2015, Sri Lanka ranked fifth among the countries of origin for asylum seekers.

Because the security situation in Sri Lanka has improved and the infrastructure in the north of the country has been largely restored, the execution of repatriation orders to all parts of the country is considered today, in principle, to be a reasonable measure. In July 2016, the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) consequently decided to adapt its practice on such orders accordingly. Federal Councillor Sommaruga hopes now to take advantage of the political talks in Colombo to intensify cooperation between Switzerland and Sri Lanka on migration issues. A bilateral agreement is expected to formalise in writing existing cooperation procedures for the repatriation of persons whose return has been ordered. The planned agreement is intended to define the terms of that cooperation and thus provide additional legal security. It does not, however, call for any changes in the decision-making process of the SEM: as before, the SEM will examine each application for asylum on a case-by-case basis and continue to take into account any existing deficits in the human rights situation.

Discussions with the civil society

On her working visit to Sri Lanka, Federal Councillor Sommaruga will also be holding discussions with representatives of the civil society and with local public authorities. Subjects to be dealt with include the reconciliation process, constitutional reform and human rights.

Ms Sommaruga will also be travelling to the former conflict region in the north of Sri Lanka. There she will also be meeting with returnees from Switzerland and will visit a project for vocational training and continuing education that receives funding from Switzerland and is also open to returnees from Switzerland.

India as the leading third country

Intensification of cooperation on migration issues will also be the subject of the second leg of the Federal Councillor's trip, a one-day visit to India. In terms of numbers, India is the most important third country for Switzerland, both with regard to the granting of permits to work in Switzerland and as concerns the issuance of visas. Among other things, Federal Councillor Sommaruga will be visiting the new Swiss visa application centre in New Delhi. The centre issues approximately 110 000 visas for Switzerland annually. This represents roughly one fifth of all visas issued for Switzerland each year and reflects the large number of tourists that visit Switzerland from India.



Last modification 02.10.2016

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