Press releases, 06.08.2018

On 6 August, Federal Councillor Simonetta Sommaruga signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in Colombo with Sri Lankan Interior Minister Seneviratne Bandara Nawinne with a view to establishing a migration partnership. By signing this MoU, Switzerland and Sri Lanka are reaffirming their intention to continue to facilitate and expand cooperation between the two countries. Switzerland has already established migration partnerships with five other countries. The agreement with Sri Lanka is the first concluded with an Asian country.

After signing the MoU, Federal Councillor Simonetta Sommaruga stated that Switzerland intended to increase the support it gives to Sri Lanka in its efforts to achieve democratic reform, as Sri Lanka still had some way to go. She added that the migration partnership provided a framework for increased involvement with the aim of advancing the reconciliation process, strengthening human rights, creating better prospects for young people in Sri Lanka through vocational training, and promoting safe labour migration in the region.

A comprehensive approach

The establishment of a migration partnership was an objective of the federal government's foreign policy on migration for 2018. The report was adopted by the Federal Council in April, and subsequently acknowledged by the relevant parliamentary committees. The Federal Council approved the signing of the memorandum in June. The MoU provides a framework for partnership, but does not establish any new legal rights or obligations.

In recent years Switzerland has pursued a comprehensive approach in its foreign policy on migration, consistently incorporating migration, development and other aspects from all policy areas. This approach is followed for all of Switzerland's migration partnerships, the first of which were established with Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia in 2009.

Return issues already resolved

With regard to the return of Sri Lankan nationals, Switzerland will continue to pursue its existing close cooperation with Sri Lanka based on the migration agreement of 2016, which has proven successful. Return issues are therefore not a key consideration in the new migration partnership.

The MoU signed on Monday also has no influence on the decision-making practices of the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) either. In its routine assessment of individual asylum applications, SEM will continue to take into account the current situation and the persistent shortcomings in Sri Lanka with respect to human rights. Indeed, the 2016 migration agreement helps to ensure that returnees are treated in a manner consistent with human rights.

Exchange with government, opposition and civil society

Federal Councillor Simonetta Sommaruga is being accompanied on her working visit to Sri Lanka, which will last until Wednesday, by a mixed delegation of representatives from the FDJP and the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA). On Monday she held talks with Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and Justice Minister Thalatha Atukorale on bilateral relations, the reconciliation process following almost 30 years of civil war, and constitutional reform.

Ms Sommaruga went on to meet with the chair of the National Human Rights Commission. Switzerland has supported this independent commission, with some interruptions, since 2003. She also met with the chair of the Office for Missing Persons. The Office for Missing Persons plays a key role in coming to terms with the past and fosters close contacts with Switzerland.

Federal Councillor Sommaruga also met with representatives from various civil society organisations that deal with the migration situation in Sri Lanka and had an opportunity to speak with staff from Helvetas, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM), which run Swiss-funded projects and programmes on the ground.

On Tuesday a meeting is due to take place with the leader of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), Rajavarothiam Sampanthan, during which the two are expected to discuss the needs of the Tamil population. The TNA is the strongest political party of the Tamil minority in Sri Lanka.

Visit to projects and programmes

In the east of the country, Ms Sommaruga will take a look at the projects and programmes that Switzerland has been supporting for a number of years. These include the vocational training project in Kinniya involving needs-based education and training in fields such as construction, mechanics, electrical installation and tailoring/dressmaking, with a view to improving employment opportunities and prospects for young people.

In Batticaloa Ms Sommaruga will visit an information centre for Sri Lankan migrant workers and talk to them about their experiences.

Several hundred thousand people from Sri Lanka migrate to the Gulf States and to Asian countries every year for work. They take on jobs abroad in order to escape poverty and to improve their chances of an income, health and education for themselves and their families.

As part of the project, which Switzerland supports, workers are informed of their rights and given advice. In that way, the project helps to make labour migration fairer and safer, which gives these people and their dependents prospects for a better life in their home country and region.

Online dossier with more details

For more information on relations between Switzerland and Sri Lanka and on the differences between a return agreement, a migration agreement and a migration partnership, please refer to the corresponding online dossier.

Further information:

Go to the Web site of the FDJP for documents pertinent to this media release
Online dossier

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