In Case of Doubt for “Majority”?

Numbers from the database from the Secretariat of State for Migration (SEM) show that there is a suspiciously high number of 18 year old refugees in Switzerland. It is said to be especially blatant by Afghan asylum seekers, according to «Blick». The newspaper has its information from 151’000 asylum seekers who entered Switherland between 2010 und 2015.”
Tagesanzeiger, 12.5.2016

This is an excerp of what was written in a couple of Swiss newspaper on May 12th 2016. This news roiled the Swiss media. Because of that report the contentious issue suddenly got thematised in public. Simonetta Sommaruga, a member of the swiss federal council, even asked the head of the Secretariat of State (SEM) Mario Gattiker, for an explanation for the falsification of the age distribution. He rejected all accusations. According to him the SEM always decides for the minority in any case of doubts. In addition, minors sometimes pretend to be adults to get a job more easily.  In cases like that there is no age determination required. An age determination is only implemented in doubt of minority not majority, though.
This is the one side’s view of the issue.

On the other side are numerous doctors, who actually start to refuse to do hand bone examinations regarding asylum proceedures, workers from the Swiss refugee aid, the Unicef Swiss and some sociologists.

 „There is reason to suspect that there is contravened against the UN- Convention on the Rights of the Child .“
Constantin Hruscka, Swiss refugee aid

A tough accusation against the Swiss Migration Management Services. It is most likely, though, that a controversy like this was only possible to happen because problems similar to this have not been properly looked at for too long.
Those numbers cast the SEM in a negative light. Still, it is also questionable how serious the information from “Blick” is to be considered.
In our opinion such a scandalous-like event would not have been necessary. Still, it is good that the topic is now being officially and publicly discussed. Especially considering the fact that the number of unaccompanied minors increased significantly during the last couple of years. Because of that the “minority issue” got even more important.

It is certain that the decision between minority and majority has an immense influence on the life of a refugee.
Minors are sent to special accommodations, they get a confidant and they cannot be sent back to a Dublin-State – unless they have family members there. In addition, the authorities need to do some clarification in the home country of the child before a minor can be deported.
All these warranties cease to apply to adults. For these reasons the SEM is reproached “to make minors adults”, to be able to deport them more easily.
But is this blame eligible? In fact, the numbers of the 18 year old asylum seeker are suspicious.

Number and age of all asylum seekers in Switzerland between 2010 and 2015


The biggest challenge for the authorities is that the possession of a passport or an ID is to be considered a hard clue for or against minority. The problem there is that most asylum seekers never had such papers or lost them on their flight. If there are no identity papers, the age determination is done based on medical clarifications. Most of the time, the responsible doctor does an X-ray of the hand bones. There also are cases where the collarbone, the teeth and the sexual maturity are examinated and analyzed.

But doctors emphasize that such clarifications are designated for age estimation rather than age determination. They are simply too inaccurate. The skeletal age can differ more than two years of the actual age; characteristics of puberty can vary up to four or more years. Another factor is that the outer appearance as well as the characteristics of puberty can differ in the different geographical locations. Also, because of the hardships, through which the refugee children had to go, they often seem to be more mature than is typical for their age. We can confirm that from our own experience. twelve-year-olds are able to act like adults if there is no one else to care for their two-year old brothers or sisters.
All these factors show that the medical methods to determinate the age of an asylum seeker are too inaccurate. Additionally, they interfere with the child’s privacy.
Does the SEM in a case of doubt really decide for the majority? It is of secondary importance if the possible violation against the UN-Convention on the Rights of the Child is true or not. The child’s welfare should always be first priority. In a situation like that we should rather decide to act instead of speculating about who is to be considered guilty.

The child needs to be protected and looked after. So in a case of doubt, decide for the minority!


Much love,





Sources: Schweizerische Flüchtlingshilfe BLICK Tagesanzeiger UN-Kinderrechtskonvention




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