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U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 1999 - Switzerland

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 1 January 1999
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 1999 - Switzerland , 1 January 1999, available at: [accessed 16 December 2017]
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 1998, Switzerland hosted almost 40,000 refugees and asylum seekers in need of protection. These included 2,032 persons granted asylum during the year, 30,063 asylum seekers awaiting a status determination with the Swiss Federal Office for Refugees (hereafter "refugee office"), some 6,545 Yugoslavs – mostly Kosovar Albanians – denied asylum during the year but nevertheless in need of protection, and about 1,100 Bosnians with temporary protection.

During 1998, 41,302 persons filed asylum applications in Switzerland, 72 percent more than the 23,982 claimants in 1997. The dramatic increase in asylum seekers arriving in Switzerland in 1998 resulted almost entirely from the conflict in Kosovo. Some 20,396 asylum seekers from Yugoslavia, overwhelmingly Kosovar Albanians, filed claims in Switzerland during the year. Other significant source countries included Albania (3,752), Iraq (2,041), Sri Lanka (1,901), and Turkey (1,565).

The refugee office decided 13,696 cases in the regular asylum procedure during 1998. Of these, it granted asylum to 2,032 applicants, a 15 percent approval rate. The highest approval rates during 1998 went to claimants from Tunisia (86 percent), Iraq (74 percent), Afghanistan (61 percent), Turkey (47 percent), and Iran (45 percent).

During 1998, Swiss authorities withdrew asylum from 412 recognized refugees, determining that the situation in their countries of origin had improved to the point where they no longer risked persecution.

New Restrictions

Although the Swiss parliament passed a new asylum bill in June 1998, opponents succeeded in forestalling its implementation by gaining support to require that the pending legislation be voted on in a referendum. A vote is scheduled for June 1999. However, this did not stop the Swiss government from passing an emergency decree, effective on July 1, 1999, that further restricts access to the asylum procedure.

According to the decree, 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 decree, authorities may detain rejected asylum seekers who do not cooperate with Swiss efforts to obtain the necessary travel documents for their deportation.

The changes appeared to have a significant impact. During 1998, Swiss authorities denied 7,659 applicants based on a decision "not to enter into the matter," a 50 percent increase over such decisions in 1997.

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.

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."

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 a decision.

To cope with the large increase in asylum-seeker arrivals in 1998, the Swiss government opened four new reception centers, increasing their number to eight. In November, it also called upon the Swiss army to accommodate up to 2,000 asylum seekers on a temporary basis.

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

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 3.6 percent in 1998.

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; were 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.

During 1998, Swiss authorities deported or issued expulsion orders to 23,706 rejected asylum seekers. For the majority (some 13,060 individuals), however, the Swiss government had no record of a departure or a continued presence in Switzerland.

Kosovar Albanians

On June 12, 1998, the Swiss government temporarily suspended the deportations of all rejected Kosovar asylum seekers except those convicted of criminal offenses in Switzerland. The government periodically renewed the deportation ban, which remained in effect throughout the year. In November, UNHCR's executive committee, comprised of representatives of 40 governments, rejected a Swiss proposal that called on European governments to institute a temporary protection regime for Kosovar Albanians and to establish a system of burden sharing to receive them. Second to Germany, Switzerland hosted more Kosovar asylum seekers than any other Western European country in 1998. During the year, Switzerland forcibly repatriated 1,211 Yugoslavs. The overwhelming majority of the Kosovar deportees reportedly were criminal offenders.

Bosnians and Croats

Temporary protection for Bosnian families with children and unaccompanied minors, about 10,000 persons, expired on April 30, 1998. The Swiss government recommended that the cantons extend temporary protection for some 1,100 Bosnian and Croatian army deserters and conscientious objectors who were required to leave Switzerland by August 31. Swiss repatriation plans do not affect recognized Bosnian refugees and Bosnians with permanent residence permits.

About 4,200 Bosnians voluntarily repatriated in 1998, bringing the total number of Bosnian repatriations from Switzerland to more than 10,000 since the end of the Bosnian war. Swiss authorities forcibly repatriated 146 Bosnians during the year. Certain categories of Bosnians – including pregnant women, elderly persons with medical problems, and students enrolled in courses could extend their stay in Switzerland.

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