U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2002 - Switzerland

At the end of 2001, Switzerland hosted nearly 58,000 refugees and asylum seekers in need of protection. These included 2,253 persons granted asylum during the year, 14,603 first-time asylum seekers awaiting a status determination with the Swiss Federal Office for Refugees (hereafter "refugee office"), 30,734 individuals with temporary protection, and 10,398 persons whose status was unclear or whose deportation was blocked for technical reasons. Also among the total were some 17,500 Yugoslavs, most of whom were under temporary protection or awaiting a decision on an asylum application.

During the year, 20,633 persons filed asylum applications in Switzerland, 17.2 percent more than the 17,611 claimants in 2000. Among these were 3,425 asylum seekers from Yugoslavia, down slightly from 3,613 in 2000. Other significant source countries in 2001 included Turkey (1,960), Bosnia (1,230), Iraq (1,201), and Macedonia (884).

The refugee office decided the cases of 19,221 applicants on the merits during 2001. Of these, it granted asylum to 2,253 persons, an 11.7 percent approval rate, up significantly from 6.4 percent in 2000. Among the countries with the highest approval rates were Afghanistan (61.7 percent), Turkey (33.7 percent), Iraq (28.7 percent), Colombia (27.1 percent), and Iran (18.2 percent). The refugee office denied asylum to 16,968 applicants (88.3 percent), of which 4,498 (26.5 percent) were decisions "not to enter into the matter" (see below).

During 2001, Swiss authorities withdrew asylum from 1,023 recognized refugees, determining that the situation in their countries of origin had improved to the point that they no longer risked persecution.

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 decides (usually the same day) whether to permit entry.

Swiss authorities have 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). The decision allows officials to deny access to the asylum procedure to undocumented asylum seekers who are unable to justify their lack of documents and are not deemed to face persecution in their country of origin. Authorities may similarly deny access 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.

Other grounds for a decision "not to enter into the matter" include the existence of a "safe third country" (see below) 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 nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) argue that 24 hours is not enough time to process an appeal, and that such deportations are therefore in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights. Authorities may detain rejected asylum seekers who do not cooperate with Swiss efforts to obtain the travel documents necessary for their deportation.

The authorities 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. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), although Switzerland does not maintain an official "safe third country" list, the government's general policy has been to consider all countries that have signed the UN Refugee Convention as "safe." UNHCR reports that in several cases, Switzerland has returned asylum seekers to "safe third countries" where they were denied access to the asylum procedure.

Airport arrivals may be refused entry if their return to a third country is "possible, permissible, and may be reasonably expected." NGOs reported cases of asylum seekers being denied access to the established asylum procedures at Swiss airports in 2001.

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, or may waive the "direct travel" requirement for asylum seekers who establish 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 them 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.

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, according to UNHCR, this policy has adversely affected applicants from Algeria, Iraq, Somalia, Sri Lanka, and Sudan, in addition to African countries where female genital mutilation is practiced. In many cases, applicants not eligible for asylum are granted temporary protection. The refugee office is reportedly considering a change in its policy regarding nonstate persecution, a shift strongly supported by UNHCR and other refugee advocates.

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 may grant temporary protection on a group basis to individuals fleeing situations of generalized violence in their home countries, especially civil wars. The 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. Switzerland also may grant ad hoc temporary residence to specified groups for humanitarian reasons.

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 2001, Switzerland signed readmission agreements with Albania, Austria, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Estonia, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Macedonia, Romania, Sri Lanka, and Yugoslavia.

Detention and Deportation

According to the Federal Law on Security Measures to be Taken in Relation to Foreigners, effective since February 1995, Swiss authorities may detain asylum seekers older than 15 years 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 is issued; or are being prosecuted for (or were convicted of) threatening 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 criticized Swiss detention and deportation procedures in 2001, 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. In November, the Federal Tribunal ruled that cantonal authorities had taken disproportionate measures in detaining an Iranian woman scheduled for deportation while her daughters were allowed to remain in a reception center.

In September, a rejected Algerian asylum seeker hanged himself in his detention center cell on the day of his scheduled deportation. According to police, he had been living in de facto solitary confinement for two months, since there were no other detainees in the section of the facility in which he was housed.

Swiss removal procedures also came under fire during the year, with some NGOs criticizing the Swiss authorities for deportations that used excessive force or were unnecessarily harsh. On the night of April 30-May 1, a rejected Nigerian asylum seeker died of asphyxiation while resisting an attempt by Swiss police to deport him from the canton of Vaud. In October, a judge declined to bring charges against the two policemen involved, saying that the officers had not been adequately informed that forcing a person to lie on his stomach with hands cuffed behind his back can cause "positional asphyxia."

In July, the trial of three policemen and a physician involved in the 1999 death of a rejected Palestinian asylum seeker ended with the doctor's conviction for negligent homicide. The court ruled that if the doctor had adequately examined the asylum seeker prior to the deportation attempt, he would have noted a respiratory problem that later led to the asylum seeker's suffocation after police covered his mouth with an adhesive band to prevent him from screaming.

In August, the refugee office announced that it would proceed with the repatriation of rejected Sri Lankan asylum seekers to the southern part of Sri Lanka, which the Swiss government asserted was safe and free of conflict. A Swiss refugee advocacy group objected to the decision, arguing that some refugees might be repatriated to dangerous areas.

During 2001, Swiss authorities deported or issued expulsion orders to 15,823 rejected asylum seekers. For many (about 8,725 individuals), however, the Swiss government had no record of a departure or a continued presence in Switzerland.

Yugoslav Refugees

During the year, 3,425 Yugoslavs applied for asylum in Switzerland. Of the 5,083 merits decisions the refugee office issued, 266, or 5.2 percent, were granted asylum.

A total of 4,407 Yugoslavs repatriated during the year. Of these returns, 1,667 were involuntary, 819 were voluntary, and 94 were returns to a third country. Some 1,800 returned without registering their departure with the authorities, or left under the authority of their canton of residence, which did not specify the reasons for departure.

Of the 20,607 Yugoslavs in Switzerland at the end of 2001, about 3,330 were recognized refugees (from 2001 and previous years), 9,156 had temporary protection, 2,671 were under deportation orders that were blocked or pending, 1,733 were awaiting the outcome of a first-instance asylum application, and 3,711 were awaiting the outcome of an appeal. About 10,000 of the Yugoslavs were from Kosovo, of whom about 4,800 were ethnic Albanians, some 2,500 were members of ethnic minority groups, and the rest were of unknown ethnicity.

In September, the refugee office announced that members of ethnic minority groups from Kosovo, including Serbs, Roma, and Slavic Muslims, would be permitted to remain in Switzerland until March 31, 2002. However, Yugoslav nationals whose last place of residence was not in Kosovo and who had applied for asylum before September 1, 2001, would be required to return home.


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