Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 January 2018, 09:04 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2001 - Switzerland

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 20 June 2001
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2001 - Switzerland , 20 June 2001, available at: [accessed 24 January 2018]
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 2000, Switzerland hosted more than 62,600 refugees and asylum seekers in need of protection. These included 2,061 persons granted asylum during the year, 15,137 first-time asylum seekers awaiting a status determination with the Swiss Federal Office for Refugees (hereafter "refugee office"), 32,114 individuals with temporary protection, and 13,363 persons whose status was unclear or whose deportation was blocked for technical reasons. Among these were some 20,300 Yugoslavs from Kosovo, most of whom were under temporary protection or awaiting a decision on an asylum application.

During 2000, 17,611 persons filed asylum applications in Switzerland, 61.8 percent fewer than the 46,068 claimants in 1999. This dramatic drop in claims resulted largely from the decrease in refugees arriving from Yugoslavia. In 2000, 3,613 asylum seekers from Yugoslavia, the majority of whom were from Kosovo, filed claims in Switzerland, down from 28,913 in 1999. Other significant source countries in 2000 included Turkey (1,431), Bosnia (1,304), Iraq (908), and Sri Lanka (898).

The refugee office decided the cases of 32,112 applicants on the merits during 2000. Of these, it granted asylum to 2,061 persons, a 6.4 percent approval rate, up from 5.7 percent in 1999. Among the countries with the highest approval rates were Afghanistan (78.5 percent), Turkey (42.5 percent), Iran (20.3 percent), Iraq (19.7 percent), and Colombia (19.7 percent). The refugee office denied asylum to 30,051 applicants (93.6 percent), of which 5,292 (16.5 percent) were decisions "not to enter into the matter" (see below).

During 2000, Swiss authorities withdrew asylum from 656 recognized refugees, determining that the situation in their countries of origin had improved to the point where they no longer risked persecution.

New Developments

A year after Swiss voters gave 23 percent of parliamentary seats to the right-wing Swiss People's Party and approved the implementation of a restrictive asylum law, citizens decisively rejected a proposal by a member of the Radical Party to limit the proportion of foreigners in Switzerland to 18 percent of the population. Opponents of the measure, which was defeated in a September referendum, had argued that a reduction in the foreign population would hurt the country's economy. Foreigners currently make up 19.3 percent of the Swiss population.

On June 13, the federal government decided not to renew a 1999 measure that required asylum seekers and those with temporary protected status to wait 12 months before seeking employment. On September 1, the law reverted to its pre-1999 provisions, permitting asylum seekers to begin working three months after submitting their asylum application, and allowing those with temporary protected status to begin working after six months.

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 requesting asylum 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 to applicants without visas if a third country, as stipulated under an international agreement, is responsible for reviewing the asylum request, or if the applicant 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 cases of asylum seekers being denied access to the established asylum procedures at Swiss airports in 2000.

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 applicants who have close relatives residing in Switzerland. It may also waive the "direct travel" requirement for asylum seekers who make credible asylum claims and can show that they traveled to Switzerland without delay.

Inland applicants and asylum seekers whom the refugee office permits to enter the territory are placed in 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.

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.

In 1999, a new asylum law allowed Swiss authorities the option of deciding "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 are deemed not to face persecution 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 to undocumented foreigners who have no basis for an asylum claim, but are submitting an application 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. Some NGOs argue that 24 hours is not enough time to process an appeal, and is therefore in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights. 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 1999 asylum law also gives the government the power to grant temporary protection on a group basis to individuals fleeing situations of generalized violence in their home countries, especially civil wars.

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 4.4 percent in 2000.

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.

On March 1, under the "Humanitarian Action 2000" program, the Swiss government granted some 13,000 asylum seekers who entered Switzerland before December 31, 1992 permission to remain in the country. These included about 6,500 Tamils from Sri Lanka who arrived in Switzerland between 1990 and 1992.

Readmission Agreements

Switzerland has entered into a series of agreements with its neighbors and other countries to implement the safe third country rule and to return other rejected asylum seekers, undocumented aliens, and those whose temporary protected status has expired. Between 1994 and 2000, Switzerland signed readmission agreements with Bulgaria, Estonia, Germany, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Romania, and Yugoslavia. In 2000, the Swiss government also concluded readmission agreements with Albania, Austria, Bosnia, France, Hong Kong, Italy, and Liechtenstein, and renewed an existing agreement with Sri Lanka. The agreement signed with Albania allows Switzerland to repatriate Kosovo Albanians via Albania.

Detention and Deportation

According to the Federal Law on Security Measures to be Taken in Relation to Foreigners, effective since February 1, 1995, Swiss authorities may detain asylum seekers more than 15 years old if they file claims under different names; refuse to reveal their identity; repeatedly and without cause miss asylum interviews; violate any restrictions on movement; were refused permission to enter Switzerland but the government is unable to expel them; claim asylum after an expulsion order; or are being prosecuted for or were convicted of being a threat to the public order.

A rejected asylum seeker can be detained for 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 decision on his or her case.

NGOs and other observers criticized Swiss detention and deportation procedures in 2000, alleging that police subjected asylum seekers and other foreigners to arbitrary arrest and detention on false charges, such as claims 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 upheld the detainees' rights.

Swiss removal procedures also came under fire, with some NGOs criticizing the Swiss authorities for deportations that used excessive force or were unnecessarily harsh. During 2000, Swiss authorities deported or issued expulsion orders to 49,030 rejected asylum seekers. For many (about 13,155 individuals), however, the Swiss government had no record of a departure or a continued presence in Switzerland.

Kosovo Refugees

In a significant decrease from 1999, 3,613 Yugoslavs applied for asylum in Switzerland during 2000. Of the 12,449 merits decisions the refugee office issued (mostly on cases pending from the previous year), only 220, or 1.8 percent, were granted asylum.

Some 32,000 Kosovo Albanians who had the right to remain in Switzerland until May 31 repatriated during the year. Nearly two-thirds of them (20,089) returned voluntarily, taking advantage of a three-stage government plan that offered incentives for voluntary repatriation. More than 4,900 returned spontaneously, without registering their departure with authorities. Swiss authorities deported some 6,800 after the expiration of a May 31 deadline for voluntary returns, and another 205 were deported to Yugoslavia through a third country.

Of the approximately 20,300 Yugoslavs remaining in Switzerland at the end of 2000, an estimated 90 percent were from Kosovo. Of these, 6,123 had temporary protection, while 8,397 were awaiting a status determination on a visa application. Some 4,709 had obtained a residence permit through the "Humanitarian Action 2000" program, which granted a longer right to stay for individual hardship cases, such as members of ethnic minorities, pregnant women, the sick, and the elderly. On August 17, the Swiss government extended the departure deadline for some 3,000 members of ethnic minorities – Roma or Serbs from Kosovo and ethnic Albanians from southern Serbia – to May 31, 2001 on the grounds that their safety could not be guaranteed at that time.

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