Feature

Switzerland: Shamed into accepting an Iraqi refugee

The Justice Minister of Switzerland intervened at the last moment to cancel the deportation of Fahad K., an Iraqi who worked as a translator for the U.S. Army in Baghdad and starred in a movie about Switzerland's poor treatment of refugees.</p

Switzerland’s most famous asylum seeker is safe—for now, said Martine Clerc in Lausanne’s 24 Heures. Fahad K., an Iraqi who worked as a translator for the U.S. Army in Baghdad, was about to be deported. He would have been sent to Sweden, where he had first applied for political asylum, and from there in all likelihood back to Iraq, where “his life was in danger.” But at “literally the last hour,” Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf intervened to cancel the deportation because of a public outcry. Fahad K., you see, is not just any asylum seeker. He is the star of The Fortress, a documentary film about the poor treatment of refugees in a Switzerland that wants to lock them out. Widmer-Schlumpf agreed to meet with the man’s lawyer as well as with the director of the documentary to discuss the case. But the reprieve is “only temporary.” Fahad could still be deported.

The film has shown all of Switzerland “the brutal side of our migration policy,” said Cedric Waelti in Geneva’s La Tribune. Fahad has become the “face and name” standing for all refugees forced to leave the country each day. This “humanization” of asylum seekers is “intolerable to the authorities,” because it makes it impossible to treat them like cattle or send them away into danger. In making an exception for Fahad, Widmer-Schlumpf has “shown that the fortress does have a key.”

But what about the rest of Switzerland’s asylum seekers? asked Hans Jürg Zinsli in Bern’s Zeitung. Since 2006, Switzerland has had “one of the most restrictive asylum policies in Europe.” A refugee has only 60 days to prove his case, and must do so in just two interviews with caseworkers. The documentary featuring Fahad shows the desperation these people feel—and it also reveals “the Swiss fear of foreigners.” Are we simply too scared to offer a home to those in need?

Widmer-Schlumpf is actually planning to make our asylum policy tougher, said Simon Petite in Geneva’s Le Courrier. One of her current proposals is to eliminate the possibility of filing an asylum application in a Swiss embassy abroad. Widmer-Schlumpf says her motive is not heartlessness but pragmatism. Asylum applications rose more than 50 percent last year. Switzerland, she says, needs to cut dowwn on bogus applications so it has more time to process the truly deserving cases. “We wish we could believe her.” But just look at the case of Fahad K. He worked for the Americans in Iraq, a country where all “who collaborated with the occupier” are at risk. “If he does not deserve asylum, who does?”

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