Once more, Swiss voters have lashed out against asylum seekers, further tightening the country’s already strict asylum law. The government has meanwhile announced a radical restructuring of the asylum procedure.
Switzerland’s asylum law exists since
1981. Since then, one reform chased the other, all of them to the
disadvantage of those seeking asylum in the country. The aim of the ten
law revisions so far is evident: make Switzerland as unattractive as
possible for poor immigrants.
On Jun. 9, 78 percent of Swiss voters approved new measures to keep
asylum seekers out. Switzerland had been so far the only country in
Europe to allow asylum seekers to apply at Swiss embassies. Now, Swiss
voters have closed that unique door.
The facility had offered a safe path to exile, especially for
endangered women and children who could avoid dangerous trips and people
The government says the provision attracted too many requests,
leading to a huge administrative effort. In 2012 Switzerland registered
7,667 such applications. Since 2006, Justice Minister Simonetta
Sommaruga has said, only 11 percent of these asylum seekers were allowed
to travel to Switzerland, and 40 percent of these were finally granted
Since 2005, thousands of Eritrean refugees have found a way to
Switzerland. In 2012, they filed 15.4 percent of all asylum requests.
Many young, male Eritreans fled the dictatorship of Isaias Afewerki and
compulsory, sometimes infinite military or state service. About
two-thirds of them were granted asylum for being conscientious
objectors. Now that will no longer be a sufficient reason for asylum.
voters have also paved the way for a major restructuring of the asylum
process. As Swiss cantons struggle to accommodate asylum seekers, the
state has demanded extra powers to provide accommodation in its own
infrastructure such as unused military bunkers. The government can now
use its infrastructure as asylum centres for three years without the
approval of the concerned cantons and communities.
On Jun. 14 Sommaruga laid out the details of her restructuring
project. Its main aim is the acceleration of the asylum procedure. Under
the new procedure, 60 percent of all asylum requests should be
conclusively dealt with within 140 days, the remaining 40 percent within
The Swiss Justice Minister intends now to centralise the system
that’s now scattered all over the country. Transporting asylum seekers
from cantonal accommodations to the federal interrogation bureaus and
back has been costing money and time.
Taking the Netherlands as an example, Sommaruga’s vision is to build a
small number of big asylum centres, where all concerned administrative
actors are present. Also, 60 percent of asylum seekers would be hosted
by the government and only 40 percent by the 26 cantons. For that, the
government needs to create at least 3,000 more accommodation places.
The Justice Ministry will carry out a two-year test phase at a centre
in Zurich, starting 2014. “It makes sense to probe the new procedures
in practice and collect experiences, before it is introduced
comprehensively,” Sommaruga said at a press conference earlier on Mar.
The details of the test system aren’t entirely clear yet, but it is
being ensured that no more than 300 asylum seekers stay in a centre. The
centres are likely to consist of detention cells to facilitate direct
deportation of those denied asylum.
Human rights groups are watching the ministry’s efforts closely, and
with concern. They agree on a need to accelerate procedures. “However,
the Justice Minister’s project will mainly speed up Dublin cases and
asylum requests with potentially low chances,” Moreno Casasola,
secretary general of the refugee rights organisation ‘Solidarité sans
frontières’ tells IPS. The ‘Dublin cases’ are asylum-seekers who can be
sent back to the first European country where they were registered,
under an EU agreement reached earlier in Dublin.
Casasola thinks that speeding up is needed for those asylum seekers
who have a good chance of being granted asylum. Such asylum requests are
often suspended for months or even years. “If the government wants more
efficiency, it should simply decide upon these requests instead of
leaving them in the drawer.”
In Casasola’s view, the government doesn’t want positive asylum
decisions because it fears a pull effect that may attract even more
immigrants. “Sommaruga plans to accelerate only unpromising, baseless
asylum requests for one sole purpose: deterrence.”
Along with the accelerated procedure, the Swiss Justice Minister
plans to offer asylum seekers free legal advice and representation. “In principle, that’s a good idea,” Melanie Aebli, secretary general
of the ‘Democratic Lawyers Switzerland’ (DJS) tells IPS. But Aebli fears
that the government will place the legal advice office in the new
centres “probably right besides the bureau for return advice.”
DJS and other refugee rights groups want the legal support promised
to asylum seekers to be situated far from the asylum centres, and be
identifiable as clearly independent. Aebli says the accelerated
procedure will put a lot of pressure on the asylum seekers, because they
will hardly be given enough time to collect evidence to present their
case and to organise themselves.
Further, the government plans to cut the appeal period for original
asylum decisions. “Already 30 days meant a lot of stress for legal
representation, cutting it to ten days is highly problematic as there’s
hardly time to work out a substantial appeal,” says Aebli.
This report was first published here by IPS Inter Press Service.