U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 1998 - Switzerland

  At the end of 1997, Switzerland hosted about 34,100 refugees and asylum seekers in need of protection. These included 2,636 persons granted asylum during the year, 17,612 asylum seekers awaiting a status determination with the Swiss Federal Office for Refugees (hereafter "refugee office"), and about 13,885 former Yugoslavs (mostly Bosnians) without a durable solution. During 1997, 23,982 persons filed asylum applications in Switzerland, 33 percent more than the 18,001 claimants in 1996. In 1997, the largest number of asylum seekers were from the present Yugoslavia (6,913), followed by applicants from Albania (3,081), Sri Lanka (2,137), Bosnia (1,987), and Turkey (1,395). The sharp increase in Albanian applications corresponded with Italy's move to repatriate some 17,000 Albanians who arrived in Italy between March and July 1997. The refugee office decided the cases of 16,069 applicants in the regular asylum procedure during 1997. Of these, it granted asylum to 2,626 persons, a 16 percent approval rate. The highest approval rates during 1997 went to claimants from Vietnam (86 percent), Afghanistan (72 percent), Iraq (69 percent), Iran (56 percent), Turkey (54 percent), and Bosnia (32 percent). The refugee office denied asylum to 13,433 applicants, or 84 percent of those whose cases were decided. The refugee office denied an additional 5,094 applicants based on a decision "not to enter into the matter," a fast-track procedure similar to those used for "manifestly unfounded" cases in other European countries. The refugee office also closed the cases of 2,449 persons because of the applicant's disappearance or death. Asylum Procedure Although Switzerland has planned new asylum legislation for several years, no significant changes were enacted in 1997. Thus, the Swiss asylum procedure was governed by the Law on Asylum, amended four times since its passage in 1979, and two decrees on asylum, the first enacted in 1991 and the second in 1993. 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 (see below). 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 one of four refugee reception centers. 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. Denials of Asylum At any point during or after an applicant's initial registration at a refugee reception center, the refugee office may decide "not to enter into the matter" on the case. Similar to fast-track procedures for "manifestly unfounded" cases in other European countries, such a decision means that an applicant's case is denied without a full status determination procedure. Reasons for such denials include the existence of a safe third country or a "safe country of origin." Applicants may appeal such denials within 30 days. Filing an appeal will not, as a rule, suspend a rejected applicant's deportation, which usually occurs within 24 hours of a negative 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. Persecution perpetrated by non-state 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 percent in 1997. 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. Following a May 1997 federal court ruling critical of the treatment of asylum seekers arriving at Swiss airports, the Swiss government amended the Law on Asylum in November, limiting to 15 days the period that an asylum seeker may be detained in the international transit zone. During 1997, Swiss authorities deported or issued expulsion orders to 16,622 rejected asylum seekers. For the majority (some 9,799 individuals), however, the Swiss government had no record of a departure or a continued presence in Switzerland. On December 4, the Swiss government carried out its first group repatriation of rejected Kosovo Albanian asylum seekers under a new readmission agreement with the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia effective on September 1. At year's end, the refugee office had submitted applications to Belgrade for the readmission of about 2,500 Yugoslav nationals. Swiss authorities deported about 20 Algerians in 1997. Switzerland did not change its policy on Algerian deportations despite a September UNHCR appeal to European governments not to hastily repatriate rejected Algerian asylum seekers due to worsening conditions in Algeria. Bosnians Temporary protection for about 8,000 single adults and adult couples without children expired on August 31, 1997. Another 10,000 Bosnians‹families with children and unaccompanied minors‹must depart by April 30, 1998. An additional 1,100 Bosnian and Croatian army deserters and conscientious objectors must leave Switzerland by August 31, 1998. Swiss repatriation plans do not affect recognized Bosnian refugees and Bosnians with permanent residence permits. By the end of 1997, 5,215 Bosnians had voluntarily repatriated and 87 were forcibly returned, according to the Swiss government. Several hundred elderly Bosnians, persons with medical problems, and those enrolled in education programs, who were to leave Switzerland by the August 31 deadline were able to extend their status. The Swiss government offers financial incentives for Bosnians to voluntarily repatriate within the government-mandated departure dates. Each adult is to receive 4,000 Swiss francs (about $2,700) and each child 2,000 Swiss francs (about $1,350). Each family or single adult will also receive 1,000 Swiss francs (about $675) to cover food costs. At the end of 1997, 7,822 persons had registered for repatriation and are eligible for Swiss reintegration program assistance. While most concede that the Swiss financial incentives are generous, several humanitarian organizations, including USCR and UNHCR, criticized the Swiss government's repatriation policy because it did not take into account Bosnians who would be in the ethnic minority if they returned to their pre-war homes. In a May 29 letter to the Swiss government urging it to extend temporary protection for Bosnians originating from areas in which their ethnicity is in the minority, USCR pointed out that "continued attacks as well as open expressions of hostility by nationalist leaders in Bosnia have made it clear that it remains unsafe to return such individuals." The Swiss government argued that minority Bosnians should resettle in areas where their ethnic group is in the majority if they cannot return to their pre-war homes, a position that USCR and other humanitarian organizations also opposed. During a USCR site visit to Switzerland in October 1997, one Swiss refugee advocate said that finding housing and successfully integrating has been far more difficult for refugees without relatives or other connections in majority areas. In its May 29 letter, USCR also pointed out that "refugees in need of housing [in Bosnia] have responded by driving members of minority groups out of their homes," and added that, "forcibly repatriating people before they are ready to return and before adequate accommodations exist will undoubtedly increase such occurrences." In defense of Swiss policy, a representative of the Swiss Federal Office for Refugees told USCR that the overwhelming majority of Bosnian returnees from Switzerland had found adequate housing upon return.

This 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.