Expanding migration partnerships

In 2022, Switzerland strengthened its cooperation with a number of countries of origin and transit. This included new migration partnerships with Georgia and North Macedonia.

Switzerland now maintains formalised migration partnerships with eight countries. Annette Matur-Weiss, head of SEM’s International Cooperation division, summarises the goals of these partnerships as follows: “We try to see migration as a comprehensive and global phenomenon. The aim is to balance the interests of Switzerland, its partner countries and the migrants themselves. Ideally, this creates a ‘win-win-win’ solution.ˮ Each form of cooperation has its own profile, its own background and different challenges, therefore requiring its own specific approach.

Using synergies

The partnership approach is also very much about confidence building. In addition to the usual issues such as readmission, return assistance, visa policy or combating human trafficking, the partnership also considers synergies between migration and development, and human rights. Annette Matur-Weiss adds: “The challenges and opportunities of migration can only be addressed through dialogue and cooperation between countries of origin, transit and destination.ˮ Migration partnerships provide the framework for various instruments of migration foreign policy and are usually formalised through a memorandum of understanding. “To implement the migration partnerships, we hold regular bilateral meetings to update each other on current developments and exchange mutual needs and ideas for migration cooperation,ˮ she explains.

Georgia – a typical example

The example of Georgia shows how such a partnership is successfully launched: “In view of Switzerland’s interest and the countries’ good bilateral relations, Switzerland and Georgia signed a migration partnership in Tbilisi in May 2022,ˮ explains Abigaëlle Gotteland-Gobet, policy advisor in the International Cooperation division. “Our aim is to promote legal migration, strengthen the protection of migrants’ rights and improve the management of migration movements. We want to make better use of synergies between the areas of health, development policy, security and migration,ˮ the Georgia expert clarifies.

North Macedonia – the fourth Balkan country on board

After Georgia, the next migration pact was concluded in November 2022, when Federal Councillor Karin Keller-Sutter signed a memorandum of understanding with North Macedonia in Bern. “In recent years, Switzerland and North Macedonia have intensified their cooperation with a view to managing migration flows more effectively,ˮ says Marijana Rakic, a policy advisor in the International Cooperation division. North Macedonia was already part of the “Swiss Migration Strategic Framework for the Western Balkans 2020-2023ˮ. In addition, a readmission agreement has existed between the two countries since 2012. Since then, the number of asylum applications from North Macedonian nationals has fallen significantly.

Switzerland has concluded three other migration partnerships with countries in the Western Balkans: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Kosovo. Voices in the region are calling increasingly for the implementation of regional approaches, for example in border management cooperation and in organised crime prevention particularly in the field of migrant smuggling. The partnerships with Georgia and North Macedonia institutionalise and validate the cooperation that already exists with these two countries in the long term.

Swiss migration foreign policy

The International Cooperation division is responsible for implementing Switzerland's foreign migration policy. Cooperation with countries of origin and transit is crucial for the successful management of migration movements. In recent years, Switzerland has developed various instruments that allow it to pursue its interests in the field of migration while taking into account the different degrees of bilateral cooperation. These instruments include bilateral migration dialogues, various kinds of agreements (e.g. readmission agreements, broader migration cooperation agreements, visa facilitation and visa waiver agreements, stagiaire agreements) and migration partnerships. In addition, the division finances and oversees projects relating to the protection and rights of migrants as well as programmes to strengthen national migration and refugee structures in the regions of origin and transit.

Switzerland’s migration partnerships

Bosnia and Herzegovina (2009)

Serbia (2009)

Kosovo (2010)

Nigeria (2011)

Tunisia (2012)

Sri Lanka (2018)

North Macedonia (2022)

Georgia (2022)

The basic conditions for a migration partnership are Switzerland's interest in migration policy, good bilateral relations, well-functioning cooperation in the area of return, a stable political situation in the partner country, and long-term perspectives.