Switzerland has allowed Chinese security agents to move freely within its borders and to the rest of Europe for five years under a secret immigration deal between the two countries, according to the agency. Safeguard Defenders Human Rights Monitor.
As the deal officially expired this week, Safeguard Defenders warned it had to be renewed in a report released Thursday.
The agreement allows Chinese authorities to travel to Switzerland for up to two weeks to interview and remove nationals who have been found to be residing illegally in the European country and return them to China.
While Switzerland maintains similar agreements with the immigration authorities of 52 other countries and territories, including Hong Kong and Macao, its agreement with China is unique in that it grants powers to the Chinese Ministry of Public Security. as opposed to immigration officials, according to Safeguard Defenders.
These officials are allowed access to investigate “irregular immigration” as opposed to “illegal immigration” as detailed in agreements with countries, the organization said.
“In China, the Ministry of Public Security is the main power structure after the Communist Party itself, and it is through the MPS that the Party exercises its authority over perceived threats,” said Michael Caster, adviser. principal at Safeguard Defenders.
“The real question is why Switzerland would accept a bilateral partnership with a state agency known for its widespread and systematic violations of human rights, including torture, especially when this partnership is about surveillance, custody and repatriation of individuals threatened with abuse ”. he said.
The deal was signed in 2015 but has not been made public, so even Swiss parliamentarians on the country’s foreign affairs committee were unaware of it, according to Swiss media outlet ZZ am Sonntag, who reported first published the story in August.
MPs were said not to have been informed because the deal was seen as an “administrative” matter, the newspaper said.
The text of the document is also not available online. The Swiss State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) offers a link to the agreement on its government website, but clicking on the link reveals that no documents have been uploaded.
The SEM acknowledged the existence of the deal with Al Jazeera in a response to written questions, and said it was neither unlisted nor confidential. “The full text has always been provided on request,” spokesman Lukas Rieder said.
Rieder said that the Swiss migration authorities decide, together with the cantons, which people will be introduced to a visiting delegation and then organize the mission.
The length of stay depends on the number of interviews, which take place in the SEM offices, and the visiting delegation has no influence on the time it spends in Switzerland, he said.
“The Chinese authorities are not receiving any information about those at risk or being persecuted,” Rieder said, stressing that the only information provided was for identification purposes. “No sensitive data or information is provided that could endanger the people concerned” or their relatives.
He added that while maintaining the agreement was “in the interest of Switzerland”, there was “no urgency” for the renewal.
Operation Fox Hunt
ZZ am Sonntag reported earlier that if the arrangement had not been used to deport Uyghurs or Tibetans, others may have fallen victim to it.
On the only known occasion that the agreement was activated in 2016, Chinese agents traveled to Switzerland to deport 13 people, including four asylum seekers, the newspaper said.
Caster said the deal could also have been used to carry out influence campaigns in Switzerland and elsewhere in Europe, as the Schengen system allows security officers unrestricted access across much of the continent.
Although Safeguard Defenders said it found no specific evidence in this case, China was known to carry out similar operations outside its borders, including forcibly repatriating and harassing its own citizens.
Known as Operation Fox Hunt or Operation Sky Net, the campaign has intensified under Chinese President Xi Jinping, who has led an anti-corruption campaign across China since taking office in 2012.
China’s state-run news agency Xinhua said the operation had brought nearly 6,000 people back to China since 2014, including 1,425 members of the Communist Party.
Among the most significant cases are Xiao Jianhua, a Chinese-Canadian billionaire kidnapped from his hotel room in Hong Kong in 2017, and Gui Minhai, a Chinese-Swedish bookseller kidnapped from Thailand in 2015. The former head of Interpol, Meng Hongwei, was arrested. when he made a return trip to China from France in 2018.
Security officers also harassed Chinese citizens and dissidents to live abroad. In October, the US Department of Justice indicted eight Chinese nationals, including harassment and coercion against Chinese overseas to encourage them to return to China.
“We have clearly seen the efforts of Chinese security officials to abduct Chinese citizens from other sovereign nations or to conduct sophisticated surveillance or influence campaigns and where there is a loophole, we can be sure that Chinese state agents will have looked for ways to exploit it. Caster said.
“As long as secret agreements, like this one with the Swiss government, allow unhindered access to Chinese security agents, we can never rule out a greater scale of abuse.”