Upholding Unsuccessful Asylum Seekers’ Right to Family Life

In two recent judgments against Switzerland, the Court examined whether a five-year separation of unsuccessful asylum-seeker couples, pending their deportation, was contrary to Article 8 of the Convention.

The applicants, two Ethiopian nationals, were denied asylum in Switzerland and ordered to be sent back to their country of origin. They remained however longer in Switzerland since the Ethiopian authorities prevented their return. Over the course of their prolonged stay in Switzerland, they got married. Their husbands, also Ethiopian unsuccessful asylum seekers, were assigned to a different Canton from that of the applicants. The latter alleged they had been prevented from living with their husbands as a result of the refusal to reassign them to the same Canton.

The Court observed that leading a life as a couple was one of the essential elements of the right to respect for family life and that the refusal to assign the applicants to the same Canton as their husbands amounted to an interference with this right. The interference was prescribed by law (Federal Asylum Act). It furthermore pursued the equitable assignment of asylum seekers among the Cantons which could fall within the “economic well-being of the country.” But, has the Swiss government struck a fair balance between the individual interests and its own? Continue reading