Eritreans who have completed their military service can safely be sent home from Switzerland if their requests for asylum are rejected, a Swiss court has ruled.
Eritreans are the biggest group of asylum seekers in Switzerland, with nearly 14,500 citizens in the asylum process as of the end of July, government data showed. Nearly 9,000 of them have won temporary protection or refugee status.
The United Nations generally considers fleeing Eritreans to be refugees rather than economic migrants, after a U.N. human rights investigation found that 300,000-400,000 people had been "enslaved" in indeterminate military service and that top Eritrean officials should be tried for crimes against humanity.
Eritrea says the U.N.'s allegations of human rights violations are biased and based on false allegations and dismissed allegations of crimes against humanity as "laughable".
In the summary of its verdict released on Thursday, the Swiss Federal Administrative Court said Eritreans who had completed their military service could be sent home.
"Eritreans who have performed their military service do not in general have to reckon with renewed inscription or with punishment on their return to their home country. Those affected are thus not threatened with treatment that violates human rights," the court summary said.
This was also true for Eritreans who had lived abroad for years, provided they had settled their situation with Eritrean authorities by paying a 2 percent income tax and signing a "letter of regret".
The ruling is final and cannot be appealed.
The case was brought by an Eritrean woman who left her homeland at age 29 after years of national service.
The court said it assumed she had left the military in an orderly fashion rather than deserting, and noted that soldiers in Eritrea were routinely discharged even though they often have to serve for an indefinite period that can last years.
Although the system of national military service was at the centre of the 2015 U.N. inquiry into Eritrea's human rights record, the U.N. said there was an "overwhelming climate of repression", including the use of rape and torture, that prompted people to flee.
A member of that inquiry, U.N. special rapporteur Sheila Keetharuth, told the U.N. Human Rights Council in June that Eritreans continued to suffer arbitrary arrest, incommunicado detention, enforced disappearances, and a national service system that amounted to enslavement.
Eritrea declined to cooperate with Keetharuth's inquiry.
(Reporting by Michael Shields and Tom Miles; Editing by Jon Boyle)