The Growing Cooperation between Switzerland & Georgia: Mario Gattiker Visits Georgia

Georgia and Switzerland marked 27 years of diplomatic relations this August. Now the two countries are boosting their cooperation in the field of migration, aiming to tackle irregular migration. Within the frames of his visit in Georgia, State Secretary of Switzerland Mario Gattiker and Georgian Minister of Internal Affairs Vakhtang Gomelauri signed a joint declaration on the subject in Tbilisi on September 16.

Since 2018, Georgia has been 5th on the list of countries whose citizens apply for asylum in Switzerland, and third place on the list of countries the nationals of which recently applied for asylum. However, the lives of Georgian nationals are certainly better than they make out in their applications and so they have almost no chance of being granted asylum in Switzerland. To resolve the challenge of unfounded asylum applications, Switzerland and Georgia have implemented different measures and are closely collaborating in the field.

In August , Switzerland decided to include Georgia on its list of safe countries from October 1. On the one hand, this decision will pave the way for the repatriation of asylum seekers whose applications have been turned down. On the other, it has raised the bar of Georgia in the eyes of the West, emphasizing that Georgia has earned visa-liberalization in the EU countries.

On Monday, 16 September, State Secretary Mario Gattiker and Interior Minister Vakhtang Gomelauri signed a joint declaration, a document aiming to strengthen cooperation between the two countries in tackling irregular migration. As of 2017, Georgian citizens are no longer required to apply for a visa to enter the Schengen Area. Since then, the Swiss State has noted a sharp increase in unfounded asylum applications from Georgia - up 87% in 2018 compared to 2016.

With the raised percentage of asylum applications presented, it is also crucial to note that the refugee status recognition rate is 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, taking care of the costs itself.

On September 17, Mario Gattiker and Swiss Ambassador to Georgia Patric Franzen received media representatives at the Swiss Residence in Tbilisi. The officials spoke about the issue of illegal migration, the importance of solving this problem both for Switzerland and Georgia, and answered questions from the press.

“We signed a declaration with Vakhtang Gomelauri yesterday, since the number of asylum seekers from Georgia has increased and this is a problem for us,” Gattiker said. The State Secretary noted that though it is not the Swiss State’s role to advise the Government of Georgia on what terms to deal with the problem, the cooperation between the two countries has been effective and is growing swiftly. Gattiker also expressed the Swiss State’s support of Georgia.

“Georgia deserves visa liberalization and its citizens should travel to the Schengen Area without a visa: we have supported this from the very beginning. That said, measures have been taken to ensure that all Georgians who are considered asylum seekers in Switzerland and appeal to us, get rejected and are made to return to Georgia. This is what helps Georgia maintain its visa-free regime with the EU,” Gattiker noted.

The State Secretary’s two-day-visit in Georgia included a visit to a hospital. After meeting up with the Ministry of Health of Georgia, Gattiker visited an intensive care oncology unit at a Tbilisi hospital to see for himself the level of care taken in treating cancer patients.

Switzerland and Georgia are committed to tightening border controls. The Swiss Embassy in Georgia reported that in June, Switzerland seconded an official to the airport at Kutaisi (the country’s 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.

Gattiker’s visit to Georgia was rounded off with talks with the Minister of Justice, Tea Tsulukiani. Another meeting was held with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, David Zalkaliani.

This is not the first time that the partner countries held discussions and put mechanisms to work to minimize illegal migration. In 2018, when the number of Georgian nationals applying for asylum rocketed, Switzerland strengthened protection at its external borders and imposed entry bans in cases where the asylum claim was clearly unfounded. Georgia in turn strengthened its own border controls and conducted information campaigns on the rights and obligations of visa-liberalization and visa-travel in the Schengen Area to raise awareness in society and minimize such illegal acts. Georgia also tightened its criminal code to combat irregular migration.

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.

By Nini Dakhundaridze

19 September 2019 17:01