Ex-Swiss diplomat’s deportation: To repair damage, Government must invite Vögele to visit India

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Forty-five civil society leaders, academics and professionals have written a letter to Union foreign minister Sushma Swaraj taking strong exception to the Ahmedabad immigration officials deporting Kurt Vögele, ex-Swiss diplomat, on January 22. Text:

We write now to draw your attention to the unceremonious detention and deportation of Mr. Kurt Vögele from Ahmedabad airport on January 22, 2018. Despite having a valid visa issued by the Indian consulate in Geneva,  Vögele aged 75 was denied entry into India. At immigration he was merely informed that he had “no right” to enter India and that his name was “blacklisted”. During his hours of waiting in limbo at the airport, Mr Vögele was denied the use of a phone and not allowed to inform friends who had come to receive him about his situation. His passport was confiscated and returned to him only on return to Geneva. You can imagine the shock, apprehension and anxiety of a 75 year old man at being so undeservedly isolated and stripped of his right of entry.

We point out that Mr. Vögele is a former Swiss diplomat serving with the Swiss Development Corporation and has been a consistent and valued friend of India for over 40 years. His actions demonstrate this. His 13 years in India were spent in the main serving as Country Director of the SDC which is an arm of the Swiss Foreign Ministry. He has also spent several years in charge of the Asia Division of SDC in Berne, before his last spell as Country Director (Counsellor) in the Swiss Embassy in Delhi, from 2000 to 2005.  Devoting, as he has most of his life, to aiding in the progress of India he has worked closely with such eminent people as MS Swaminathan, then Director General of Indian Council of Agricultural Research. Among other accomplishments, Mr. Vögele conducted a study with the National Dairy Research Institute (NDRI) on usefulness of crossbreeding in Kerala and has partnered with the Institute of Rural Management, Anand (IRMA), NABARD, MILMA (Malabar Union), Calicut, and the Kerala Institute for Local Administration (Thrissur). Mr. Vögele was also instrumental in providing major assistance during the devastating 2001 earthquake in Kutch.

That a person of Mr Vögele’s age and stature had to face humiliation is difficult to comprehend.

In his letter to the Indian Ambassador protesting his arbitrary deportation at immigration, Mr. Vögele has been honest and open about his reasons for coming to Ahmedabad. It was to meet “old and profoundly cherished friends”, even as “working and exchanging with them on themes of Human and Institutional Development, from maintaining deep ties as well as from accepting invitations from members of former partners of SDC.” This is consistent with his lifelong commitment to the country.

Newspaper speculation suggests that Mr Vögele was denied entry into India due perhaps to his friendship with colleagues at Navsarjan Trust, a Dalit rights NGO. In the course of his years living here it is but natural that Mr Vögele has made many close friends.  In all our democratic country and under our Constitution this can surely be no grounds for deportation. The Trust was denied a renewal of its FCRA licence in December 2016. If this were a reason, it would be a breach of the right to free association and also amount to victimization of the Trust.

Mr. Vögele mentions he felt “wronged, saddened and violated”. Given the harsh arbitrary and unreasonable treatment meted out to him we believe:

  • Vögele is owed an explanation for being ‘blacklisted’ without any prior intimation;
  • Any blacklisting of Mr. Vögele must be revoked forthwith;
  • Mr. Vögele deserves an apology for the treatment meted out to him;

In order to repair the considerable damage such actions do to India’s image abroad – especially the image held by friendly and democratic countries – it would be a gracious gesture for the Government of India to invite Mr Vögele to visit India in the early future. This would go some way to repair the damage the shocking decision has caused.

Signatories include Aakar Patel, Amitabh Behar, Debarun Dutta, Dr. Anuradha Prasad, Dr. Mallika Sarabhai, Dr. Sunil Kaul, Dr. Syeda Hameed, Dr. Uma Ramaswamy, Dr. Walter Fernandes, Gagan Sethi, Jennifer Liang, Martin Macwan, Nupur Sinha, Rajendra Joshi, Sandeep Virmani, Soumen Biswas, Suneeta Dhar, Sushma Iyengar, Vijay Parmar, others

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