Mother forced to breastfeed while handcuffed by police

In cases of forced returns, the interests of the child are sometimes simply forgotten. This is the conclusion reached by the National Commission for the Prevention of Torture (CNPT). For the Confederation and the cantons, this goes too far.

Reto Wattenhofer / ch media

It is only six in the morning when the doorbell rings. Seventeen officers, some of them visibly armed, stand at the door to forcibly repatriate a family of nine. The parents are strip-searched, as is one of the children, aged 12. In front of their toddlers, the parents are handcuffed. When the 15-year-old daughter refuses to get out of bed, she is handcuffed as well.

The National Commission for the Prevention of Torture (CNPT) looked at this intervention in its latest report on forced returns. These occur every time rejected asylum seekers refuse to return to their country of origin. And in the eyes of the commission, this is not an isolated event.

A woman had to breastfeed her child while handcuffed (illustrative image).Image: Shutterstock

In another case, a woman repeatedly asked the police to remove the handcuffs so she could take care of her two-year-old boy. In vain. She had to breastfeed him in handcuffs and was only released to change her son.

Family separation problematic

The commission considers that these coercive measures are “potentially traumatic” for children and, in certain circumstances, “endanger their best interests”. It also considers coercive measures against pregnant and breastfeeding women as “degrading and inhuman”. Last year, the CNPT examined 49 forced repatriations by plane. They concerned 45 families and 105 children.

The Commission also attests that the enforcement authorities generally demonstrate professionalism and respect for individuals. It notes “visible efforts to ensure the well-being of children, particularly young children”. Despite this, it is concerned that the interests of the child are being put aside in this context.

According to her, several points are open to criticism: the handcuffing of parents in the presence of their children, staggered deportations and the separation of families during forced deportations. Night deportations and the use of children to translate between their parents and the authorities are also problematic. For the commission, police escort officers must be better trained in dealing with families and minors.

Little delicate cases

The Confederation and the cantons are seeking to qualify this analysis. The number of referrals that the commission considers problematic is “relatively low”, writes the expert committee Return and enforcement of referrals in a position paper. On behalf of the Department of Justice and the Conference of Cantonal Directors of Justice, this committee analyses developments in this area and coordinates enforcement instruments.

Some criticisms are said to concern procedures that are expressly provided for by law. The committee of experts also points out that forced returns are a last resort. People would previously have had the option of “leaving voluntarily and – where the law allows – with assistance in returning”.

The news in Switzerland is here

(French adaptation: Valentine Zenker)

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