Press Release, FDJP, 05.08.2018
Federal Councillor Simonetta Sommaruga's Four-Day Working Visit to Sri Lanka
In a nutshell:
- Federal Councillor Sommaruga will be visiting Sri Lanka until Wednesday in order to deepen bilateral cooperation between the two countries.
- She will be meeting with various government, opposition and civil society representatives and visiting programs co-financed by Switzerland.
- It is also planned to sign a Memorandum of Understanding on establishing a migration partnership.
Federal Councillor Simonetta Sommaruga will be accompanied by a mixed delegation of representatives of the Federal Department of Justice and Police (FDJP) and the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA). The trip will also include a visit to a regular labour migration programme in Sri Lanka led by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) of the FDFA.
Several hundreds of thousands of people from Sri Lanka migrate every year to the Gulf States or in Asian countries to work there. Switzerland supports the Sri Lankan government in the implementation of its labour migration policy. Migrant workers receive information about their rights, legal assistance and advice. They should be better protected against exploitation. In addition, the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) supports vocational training projects in Sri Lanka. Young people should thereby obtain better prospects in the domestic labour market.
Meeting with the President and Prime Minister
The program also includes meetings with Sri Lanka's President his Excellency Maithripala Sirisena, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and Minister of Justice Thalatha Atulorale. An exchange with the National Human Rights Commission and the Office on Missing Persons is also planned. These two independent state commissions play an important role in dealing with the past and the rule of law. Switzerland has close contacts with both commissions. The National Human Rights Commission is also financially supported by Switzerland.
Also planned is a conversation with opposition leader Rajavarothiam Sampanthan. Federal Councilor Sommaruga will discuss with the head of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) the most popular Tamil party, among others topics, the situation of the Tamil minority in Sri Lanka.
Intensification of existing cooperation
In 2016, Switzerland and Sri Lanka signed a migration agreement. This formed the basis for an increased cooperation in the areas such as the voluntary return of asylum seekers and the reintegration of returnees.
With a view to intensifying the existing close cooperation and Switzerland’s activities on the ground, Switzerland and Sri Lanka are due to sign a MoU for the establishment of a migration partnership. As with the partnerships that Switzerland currently maintains with five other countries, cooperation as part of this migration partnership covers migration and development. The focus of the partnership with Sri Lanka is on the reconciliation process and constitutional reform, dealing with the past, education and training of young people and safe labour migration for Sri Lankans in the region.
Switzerland adopts a holistic approach to migration partnerships ("Whole of Government Approach"), which takes into account the positions of all interested policy areas. The migration partnership with Sri Lanka is one of the objectives of the Federal Council’s foreign policy on migration. This was stated in the recent report of 25 April 2018 and brought to the attention of the Parliament’s competent committees. The Federal Council approved the signing of the MoU on 8 June 2018.
Sri Lanka: of particular importance to Switzerland
Sri Lanka has been particularly important to Switzerland’s foreign policy on migration for decades: In the course of the almost 30-year civil war that ended in 2009, many displaced persons were afforded protection in Switzerland. As a result, Switzerland is currently home to approximately 51,000 Sri Lankans, around half of whom have meanwhile acquired Swiss citizenship. At the same time, the number of asylum applications has fallen considerably in recent years.
With regard to the return of Sri Lankan asylum-seekers, Switzerland will continue to pursue its existing close cooperation with Sri Lanka based on the migration agreement of 2016. Both countries are keen to continue facilitating the voluntary return of asylum seekers. A joint group of experts exchanges regularly to discuss and clarify specific issues concerning operational cooperation in identification, obtaining of documents and departure organisation. This exchange has proven successful. Therefore, the return issue is not the main focus of the new migration partnership.
The planned migration partnership will not affect the decision-making practices of the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) in its decisions. In its routine assessment of individual asylum applications, SEM will continue to take into account the current situation in Sri Lanka and the persisting shortcomings in human rights.
Information on relations between Switzerland and Sri Lanka and on the differences between a return agreement, a migration agreement and a migration partnership.
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