People from Western Sahara deemed stateless in Switzerland

The Algeria-backed Polisario Front proclaimed Western Sahara as a separate state and is in conflict with Morocco. Keystone / Arturo Rodriguez

The Federal Court has upheld a move by Swiss authorities to designate a refugee from Western Sahara as “without nationality”.

This content was published on August 20, 2021 - 17:46

The man, who arrived in Switzerland in 1998, had been registered for 20 years as being from “Western Sahara”, but in spring 2019 he noticed that letters from the migration service in canton Fribourg designated him and his family as Moroccan.

He then asked the State Secretariat for Migration to correct this. The SEM decided to review its practice and enter him as "without nationality", although it did not dispute he was from Western Sahara. As this country is not recognised by Switzerland, SEM said its nationals were registered as Moroccans because Morocco claims this territory. However, Switzerland does not recognise Morocco’s claim either, so it was decided to designate Sahrawis as "without nationality".

The refugee appealed. But on Friday, the Federal Court confirmed a decision that the SEM practice was admissible. The judges said was in Switzerland's interest that its position on the international scene be taken up at all levels of the administration and thus be consistent.

Western Sahara has seen a long running conflict between Morocco and the Algeria-backed Polisario Front, which seeks Western Sahara's independence from Morocco. The Polisario proclaimed an independent Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) in 1976 but controls only part of the territory.  As of July 2021, the SADR is recognized by 39 out of a total of 193 UN member states. These do not include Switzerland, but the neutral Alpine country has been involved in mediation efforts.

Comments under this article have been turned off. You can find an overview of ongoing debates with our journalists here. Please join us!

If you want to start a conversation about a topic raised in this article or want to report factual errors, email us at

Share this story

Join the conversation!

With a SWI account, you have the opportunity to contribute on our website.

You can Login or register here.