Media release 13 December 2022

HEKS/EPER appeal helps ease family reunification

So far in Switzerland, it has been possible for temporarily admitted refugees to be joined by family members after a three-year waiting period, at the earliest. Following an appeal by a lawyer from the HEKS/EPER Legal Advice Centre (SAJE) in Lausanne, the Federal Administrative Court has now adapted its jurisprudence. Effective immediately, consideration of the right to family on a case-by-case basis must now begin before the end of the three-year period.

In 2016, an Eritrean mother and her then five-year-old son reached Switzerland after a traumatising journey, and applied for asylum. In the hope of reunification, she had always kept in touch with her husband, the father of her son, and who had also fled Eritrea. Despite her poor health, she managed to learn French and find a job. As her son's health was also problematic, she came to feel the need for her husband's support even more keenly. She filed an application for him to join her, but the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) rejected it on the grounds that the three-year waiting period for temporarily admitted persons had not yet expired.
Rechtsberatung für Asylsuchende SAJE Lausanne

Relying on case law from the European Court of Human Rights (M.A. v. Denmark), the HEKS/EPER Legal Advice Centre (SAJE) in Lausanne successfully challenged that decision. The Federal Administrative Court announced late last week that the right to family must be assessed on a case-by-case basis and that restrictions would have to be reasonable, with the interests of the child being given highest priority.

Significant step in the right direction

"We are delighted that the circumstances of separated families will now be given greater consideration", says Chloe Ofodu, head of the SAJE. Reuniting families is often the key to supporting, facilitating and integrating refugees. If neither a return to the country of origin nor a life together in a third country is conceivable, family reunification should then be facilitated as quickly as possible. This is why HEKS/EPER has long used its legal and political work to advocate for an improved status for F-Permit holders (temporary admission) and for observance of the right to family life. 

HEKS Rechtsberatungen
Legal advice

Asylum seekers, refugees or people facing discrimination often have very limited access to legal advice. The HEKS/EPER legal advice centres help these people claim their rights.

The Federal Administrative Court still deems a two-year waiting period to be admissible. Ofodu points out, however, that two years – especially in the life of a small child – also represent a long time. Added to that is the time spent apart during the journey and the asylum procedure. "If the SEM then approves admission, it will still take several months in most cases until all documents are ready and the family is effectively reunited", says the SAJE head. "This time lost in a child's life will never be regained."

The SEM is now to reassess the case of the Eritrean family, and it will probably be some time yet before the now 11-year-old boy can effectively live with his father. The Federal Administrative Court is already making it clear, however, that the practice and ultimately also the law will have to be adapted with respect to all temporarily admitted persons.

Press release of the Federal Administrative Court on December 7th 2022

Lorenz Kummer
Contact me
Lorenz Kummer

Telefon direct: +41 (0)31 380 65 71
Mobile: +41 (0)79 461 88 70