On Monday, 16 September, State Secretary Mario Gattiker and Interior Minister Vakhtang Gomelauri signed a joint declaration aimed at strengthening cooperation between the two countries in tackling irregular migration. Since Georgian citizens are exempted from the visa requirement for the Schengen area, Switzerland has registered a sharp increase in unfounded asylum applications from Georgia (+87% in 2018 compared to 2016).
These applications have almost no chance of being accepted (refugee status recognition rate: 0%). Moreover, certain persons lodging applications for asylum suffer from severe medical issues requiring urgent care, which complicates the return process. Since the visa liberalization, Switzerland has called on Georgia to take appropriate measures. On its side, Switzerland pursues a swift and consistent policy of return to the country of origin.
Medical care in the center of discussions
To address this phenomenon, Switzerland has, in collaboration with Georgia, put in place a number of measures. A process of cooperation has been established in May of this year between the State Secretariat for Migration, the Swiss embassy in Tbilisi and the Georgian Health Ministry, to enable the swift processing of asylum applications by Georgian nationals suffering from complex health issues. This cooperation process helps to swiftly identify the possibility of medical treatment in Georgia and consequently assess the person’s return. In that regard, after the talks with the Ministry of Health, Mario Gattiker visited an intensive care oncology unit at a hospital in the capital to see for himself the level of care in treating cancer patients.
Moreover, Switzerland and Georgia are committed to tightening border controls. In June, Switzerland seconded an official to the airport at Kutaisi (second largest city) for a month to support the local authorities in their tasks and to provide additional technical assistance on border controls at departure within the framework of Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency.
On 28 August, the Federal Council decided to add Georgia to the list of ‘safe countries’. As of 1 October 2019, Georgia will join the list of countries to which the return of asylum seekers whose applications have been denied is considered reasonable.
The State Secretary’s visit to Georgia was rounded off with talks with the Minister of Justice, Tea Tsulukiani, a further meeting is planned with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, David Zalkaliani.
In response to the rise of asylum applications from Georgian nationals, Switzerland and Georgia had already taken measures in 2018, but these had limited impact. In particular, Switzerland has strengthened protection at external borders and imposed entry bans in cases where the asylum claim was clearly unfounded. For its part, Georgia has made efforts to strengthen borders controls and has conducted several information campaigns on the rights and obligations of visa-travel in the Schengen area. Finally, Georgia has tightened its criminal code to combat irregular migration.
Address for enquiries:
Information and Communication Service, State Secretariat for Migration, T +41 58 465 78 44