Swiss Public Opinion,
Asylum Policy Reform
and the Repatriation Agreement
This chapter explores the politics of immigration, asylum and repatriation in Switzerland during the period of my research. It sets out the recent historical trends and contemporary forces which led to demands for a substantial revision to Switzerland's asylum and immigration laws in the early 1990s. I shall concentrate on events over the past decade which have played, and will continue to play, such a crucial role in directing those revisions. It shall be seen that the Tamil presence in Switzerland was central to this process, and the February 1994 repatriation scheme was one of the first major manifestations of the desire for change. More importantly it was a consequence of that desire.
Why did the Swiss federal authorities push for the UNHCR- Swiss-Sri Lanka Agreement at this particular time? In order to answer this question it is first necessary to understand the political culture of Switzerland as a host society. The objective of the return scheme was clear: to limit the potential of high immigration in the future, and to this end Tamils constituted the first target group. The economy and social integration were the prime basic concerns of ordinary Swiss citizens who, through the country's community-based political system, significantly influenced the policy decision to put such an agreement in place.