I am waiting in the Zurich main station; my train is coming in ten minutes. Now a familiar sight: two police officers are walking directly towards me. After checking my ID, they start with the standard questions: “What are you doing in Switzerland? What do you want here? Why don’t you go back home?”
I answer that I have a permit, and a lawyer.
“We’re paying for your lawyer. The Swiss have to pay for that,” lectures one of the officers.
“That’s not true,” I protest angrily, “I paid him myself, out of my savings, to file a CAT* complaint with the United Nations.” [*Committee Against Torture]
“All foreigners are liars,” retorts the policeman.
I am a Kurd from Iran. Before fleeing, I had been doing propaganda for a banned Kurdish political party. The police saw me doing this, and came to my home to arrest me. But I was no longer there: I had noticed them observing me, and I knew that I could not stay in Iran.
I fled the country and was sheltered in the mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan by the Peshmerga.
Why don’t I go back? I was a member of an outlawed political party for fourteen years, struggling against the Iranian government. Members of illegal political parties in Iran face execution or life in prison. The government believes they rule in God’s name, and if you are against them, then you are against God.
When I got to Switzerland, I received a work permit. I worked hard for two years, for a florist supplier. Out of my slim income, I paid into the social system as required—along with the special 10% levy the Swiss asylum law assigns on top of that. The meager income I had leftover barely covered my rent and basic living expenses. Nevertheless, during this time I tried to set aside as much money as possible so I could hire a lawyer.
Then suddenly there came the order from the Federal Migration Office (Bundesamt für Migration, or BfM) banning me from working. The BfM had decided not to recognize me as an asylee and therefore stripped me of my right to work. Three years of difficulty followed—years of anxious waiting for letters from my lawyer.
While I was waiting on the decision of the United Nations, I was treated exactly like any other refugee without any papers at all. Although according to the UN I could not be deported while my appeal was being processed, I was never sure if Switzerland would hold itself to this standard.
The police toyed with my fear. Once they even locked me up in jail for three days without cause or charge, and left me uncertain the entire time if I would be deported. I did receive redress for this treatment, but that did not help with the fear. I was to remain in constant psychological stress, brought about by frequent police stops, humiliations, uncertainty, and transfers from one emergency dwelling to the next.
I finally received notice from the UN in December 2014: my appeal had been accepted and Switzerland had been instructed to recognize me as an asylee. For six years the BfM had been going to great lengths, writing pages-long explanations why I, as a Kurdish activist, would not be in danger back in Iran—and then this.
On 19 February 2015, three more Kurdish activists were executed in Iran; on 4 March another six. There are more waiting on death row. These executions have made it obvious that the BfM’s claims were lies.
The sad truth is a different one. Instead of wasting ink on pages-long speculative explanations, the BfM could be honest and simply write: “We have instructions to refuse a certain percentage of applications, and yours is unfortunately among these. If you have money for a lawyer, years of precarious living and pacing in bunkers await you. If you don’t have money for a lawyer, happy trails! With any luck maybe you’ll escape torture and execution.”
Why should the UN have to tell Switzerland it has to protect the persecuted? Why doesn’t Switzerland do so on its own, if it is truly my right?
Not an Isolated Case
Afterword by Michael Schmitz
The UN Declaration on the Protection From Torture identified five cases (two of which involving whole families) with regard to asylum-seekers from Iran in which Switzerland violated the Non-Refoulement Principle. This principle forbids the expulsion, deportation or delivery of a person into a country where they face torture, inhuman treatment, or other serious violations of their human rights. It is part of the UN Convention Against Torture.
The website humanrights.ch points out that “in all five cases, Switzerland doubted the credibility of applicant statements, citing contradictions and inconsistencies, and judged as ‘unproblematic’ the personal threat level in case of deportation.” The CAT saw it differently.
Decisions of the CAT are not legally binding for Switzerland. According to the BfM’s own protocols, however, Switzerland does hold itself to CAT decisions and makes explicit that it “regards them as binding.” Normally, successful UN appellants receive an “F” Permit. Still, last November Switzerland received an official reprimand for deporting a CAT appellant back to Kosovo before the CAT had come down with its (negative) decision.
In the last few years, condemnations of Switzerland by the CAT and other international bodies have been piling up. In another recent case similar to the account above, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasburg also issued a condemnation of Switzerland, finding that an Iranian asylum-seeker would indeed face torture if deported.