Last Updated: Friday, 21 October 2016, 15:45 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2000 - Switzerland

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 1 June 2000
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2000 - Switzerland , 1 June 2000, available at: [accessed 21 October 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


At the end of 1999, Switzerland hosted more than 104,000 refugees and asylum seekers in need of protection. These included 2,050 persons granted asylum during the year, 34,769 asylum seekers awaiting a status determination with the Swiss Federal Office for Refugees (hereafter "refugee office"), 18,907 individuals with temporary protection, and an estimated 49,000 Kosovo Albanians without legal status, whom Switzerland nevertheless said it would allow to remain until May 31, 2000.

During 1999, 46,068 persons filed asylum applications in Switzerland, 11.5 percent more than the 41,302 claimants in 1998. Although this was a relatively modest increase, the number of applicants applying in both 1998 and 1999 was considerably more than the 23,982 who filed claims in 1997. The higher numbers during 1998 and 1999 resulted almost entirely from the conflict in Kosovo. Some 29,120 asylum seekers from Yugoslavia, overwhelmingly Kosovo Albanians, filed claims in Switzerland during 1999. Other significant source countries included Iraq (1,681), Bosnia (1,606), Sri Lanka (1,600), Turkey (1,576), and Albania (1,402).

The refugee office decided the cases of 35,886 applicants on the merits during 1999. Of these, it granted asylum to 2,050 persons, a 5.7 percent approval rate, down from 15 percent in 1998. The highest approval rates during 1999 went to claimants from Vietnam (91 percent), Afghanistan (65 percent), Turkey (44 percent), Iraq (39 percent), and Iran (38 percent). The refugee office denied asylum to 33,836 applicants (94.3 percent), of these 6,693 (18.6 percent) in decisions "not to enter into the matter" (see below).

During 1999, Swiss authorities withdrew asylum from 441 recognized refugees, determining that the situation in their countries of origin had improved to the point where they no longer risked persecution.

Xenophobia and New Restrictions

Running on a platform that espoused reducing the number of foreigners in Switzerland generally and staving off the influx of asylum seekers in particular, the right-wing Swiss People's Party captured 23 percent of the vote in October elections, becoming the second largest party in the parliament.

A June 1999 referendum, in which 70 percent of Swiss voters cast ballots approving a restrictive asylum law, foreshadowed the Swiss People's Party's electoral success later in the fall. The Swiss parliament had passed the asylum law in 1998, but opponents successfully blocked its implementation pending the referendum. The new law took effect on October 1.

According to the new law, Swiss authorities may decide "not to enter into the matter" (a fast-track procedure similar to those used for "manifestly unfounded" cases in other European countries) to deny asylum to undocumented asylum seekers who are unable to justify their lack of documents and would not be persecuted in their country of origin. Authorities may similarly deny asylum to applicants they deem to be concealing or lying about their identity, as well as undocumented foreigners applying for asylum merely to prevent their expulsion.

Previously existing grounds for a decision "not to enter into the matter" include the existence of a "safe third country" or a "safe country of origin." Applicants may appeal such denials within 30 days. However, filing an appeal will not, as a rule, suspend a rejected applicant's deportation, which usually occurs within 24 hours of a negative decision. According to the new law, authorities may detain rejected asylum seekers who do not cooperate with Swiss efforts to obtain the necessary travel documents for their deportation.

The new law also gives the government the power to grant temporary protection to whole groups of individuals fleeing situations of generalized violence in their home countries, especially civil wars.

On August 25, the Swiss government also decided to increase from 3 to 12 months the period during which asylum seekers and temporary protection recipients may not work. The year-long ban on work begins when the asylum seeker submits an asylum application. Most cantons opposed the ban, arguing that it would result in more asylum seekers working illegally and lead to increased crime. The cantons also opposed a provision on the new asylum law that reduces federal assistance to asylum seekers, saying that the cantons would be left to cover the costs.

Asylum Procedure

Swiss asylum law stipulates that asylum seekers normally should request asylum at the border upon entering the country. However, the overwhelming majority file after entering Switzerland. Whether or not their entry was legal, "inland" applicants can apply for asylum, although a decision "not to enter into the matter" may deny them a full status determination procedure. On April 20, Switzerland's highest administrative court, the Federal Court, ruled that authorities could not penalize asylum seekers for entering the country illegally, saying that such penalties would contravene the UN Refugee Convention.

Applicants applying at the border fill out initial applications that the border police forward to the refugee office, which then decides (usually the same day) whether to permit entry. It may deny permission if an applicant: has no visa to enter and a third country, as stipulated under an international agreement, is responsible for reviewing the asylum request; or did not arrive directly from the country of alleged persecution. Airport arrivals may be refused entry if their return to a third country is "possible, permissible, and may be reasonably expected." Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reported that the denial of access to the asylum procedure at Swiss airports rose in 1999.

Asylum seekers denied on safe third country grounds may enter Switzerland and apply for asylum if they can provide credible reasons why the third country would be unsafe for them individually. The refugee office also may decide to admit an applicant if an asylum seeker has close relatives residing in Switzerland. It may also waive the "direct travel" requirement if an asylum seeker makes a credible claim to needing asylum and can show that he or she traveled to Switzerland without delay.

Inland applicants and asylum seekers whom the refugee office permits to enter the territory travel to a reception center. There, the refugee office registers applicants and refers them to one of Switzerland's 23 cantons, where they remain during the asylum procedure. The Aliens Police in the individual cantons interview the asylum applicants, submitting interview records and other evidence to the refugee office for decisions.

To cope with the large increase in asylum-seeker arrivals in 1998 and 1999, the Swiss government opened four new reception centers, increasing their number to eight. For most of the year, the Swiss army also provided accommodations for up to 2,000 asylum seekers in army barracks on a temporary basis. Authorities phased out accommodating asylum seekers in army facilities as the number of new arrivals decreased in the summer and fall of 1999.

Asylum seekers rejected under the normal procedure who file appeals with the Appeals Commission generally can remain in Switzerland pending a decision on their appeal.

Persecution perpetrated by nonstate agents does not constitute grounds for asylum in Switzerland unless proven to have been condoned by state authorities. In recent years, this policy adversely affected Algerian applicants claiming persecution by the radical Islamic opposition in Algeria. The approval rate for Algerian applicants was just 5.2 percent in 1999.

Recognized refugees receive renewable one-year residence permits (and permanent residence after five years), work authorization, and access to social security and education.

The Swiss government also provides temporary protection to several categories of persons not granted full asylum. Rejected asylum seekers whose return to their country of origin is considered impossible, unsafe, or unreasonable may receive temporary residence. The Swiss federal government may also grant ad hoc temporary residence to specified groups for humanitarian reasons.

Detention and Deportation

According to the Federal Law on Security Measures to be Taken in Relation to Foreigners, effective since February 1, 1995, asylum seekers more than 15 years old can be detained if they have filed claims under different names; refused to reveal their identity; repeatedly and without cause missed asylum interviews; violated any restrictions on movement; are refused permission to enter Switzerland but the government was unable to expel them; claimed asylum after an expulsion order; or were being prosecuted for or were convicted of being a threat to the public order.

A rejected asylum seeker can be detained up to nine months while awaiting deportation if the above-mentioned criteria apply, if a credible threat exists that the individual will evade deportation, or if the individual was already in detention pending a result of his or her case.

NGOs and other observers sharply criticized Swiss detention and deportation procedures in 1999. Some NGOs alleged that police subjected asylum seekers and other foreigners to arbitrary arrest and detention on trumped up charges, usually claiming that the asylum seeker had disturbed public order. Switzerland's Federal Court reportedly overturned many administrative decisions to detain asylum seekers and other foreigners during the year, finding that the police had not sufficiently respected their rights.

Swiss removal procedures also came under fire. On March 4, a rejected Palestinian asylum seeker died while being deported. Authorities reportedly had tied the Palestinian to a wheel chair and gagged him with adhesive tape to prevent him from struggling while being deported. An inquiry reportedly found suffocation to be the cause of the man's death. This and other incidents – including one in which passengers attacked Swiss police escorting a Congolese deportee to Kinshasa during a stopover in Cameroon, forcing the jet to return to Switzerland – reportedly led Swiss Air to decide in September that it would no longer transport rejected asylum seekers and other foreigners that could be expected to resist deportation.

During 1999, Swiss authorities deported or issued expulsion orders to 31,154 rejected asylum seekers. For many (some 12,933 individuals), however, the Swiss government had no record of a departure or a continued presence in Switzerland.

Kosovo Albanians

As a result of the conflict in Kosovo, some 29,120 Yugoslavs, overwhelmingly ethnic Albanians from Kosovo, applied for asylum in Switzerland during 1999, more than in any other Western European country except Germany. Of the 20,245 merits decisions the refugee office issued during the year, only 236, or 1.2 percent, were granted asylum. However, on April 7, the Swiss government decided to grant group temporary protection to Kosovo Albanians. In addition to those who arrived spontaneously, the Swiss government evacuated 1,670 Kosovo Albanians from refugee camps in Macedonia between April and July.

On August 11, two months after Serb forces evacuated Kosovo and NATO troops moved into the Yugoslav province, Switzerland withdrew temporary protection for Kosovo Albanians and set May 31, 2000 as the deadline for leaving Switzerland.

The Swiss government devised a three-stage repatriation plan that offered incentives for Kosovo refugees to repatriate quickly. Those leaving during the first stage of the plan – between August and December 31, 1999 – received a repatriation allowance of 2,000 Swiss francs ($1,160) per adult and 1,000 Swiss francs ($580) per child, as well as home repair kit. Kosovars who leave during stage two of the plan – between January 1 and May 31, 2000 – receive half the benefits of those who repatriated in stage one. Finally, those who leave May 31, 2000 will receive only about 600 Swiss francs ($348) per adult and will not be entitled to assistance from Swiss organizations in Kosovo. About 16,000 Kosovo refugees had taken advantage of the Swiss repatriation package and returned to Kosovo by year's end.

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