GENEVA (AP) — A Swiss federal court has ruled that Eritrean asylum-seekers who completed military service in the East African country can legally be sent home if their asylum cases are rejected. The ruling could have sweeping implications for thousands of Eritreans who make up Switzerland's largest pool of asylum-seekers by nationality.
Eritrea's government has faced criticism by United Nations human rights investigators and other rights advocates over its harsh conscription laws.
In a summary of the Aug. 17 verdict made public Thursday, the federal administrative court in St. Gallen said that because Eritrean military veterans had completed their service — as opposed to deserters — they "won't necessarily expect to be summoned again for national service or punished criminally upon return to the country."
The case involved a woman from Eritrea who claimed that she had deserted. The court said she "could not make a plausible case" the she actually deserted, and it could only presume that she received a proper discharge.
The summary added: "After a thorough analysis, the court also concludes that Eritrea is not currently facing a situation of broad violence."
The ruling is final and cannot be appealed, the court said.
In June, a special investigator for the U.N. said Eritreans continue to suffer arbitrary arrest, enforced disappearances and a national system of military service that amounts to enslavement. A U.N. commission of inquiry has estimated the enslavement of up to 400,000 people — mostly through military conscription — in the country of about 6 million people.
Eritrea has been a leading source of migrants and asylum-seekers who have crossed the Mediterranean to Europe via Libya. Nearly 5,200 asylum-seekers from Eritrea requested asylum in Switzerland last year.
Like some other European countries, Switzerland has been grappling with a recent influx of migrants from Africa and the Middle East. A far-right party that holds the most seats in Switzerland's parliament has built its appeal largely upon its calls for curbs to immigration.