• Switzerland's news in English
 

Swiss slammed over treatment of refugees

Published: 14 Aug 2013 12:04 GMT+02:00

The controversy first broke last week when federal migration authorities said the small northern town of Bremgarten, with 6,500 residents, had been permitted to deny residents of a new asylum centre access to certain public spaces.

Initial reports that the asylum seekers would be barred from the public pool, gyms and even the town library and churches sparked outrage and charges of segregation and discrimination from rights activists.
   
Swiss migration authorities maintain the reports were based on a misunderstanding, insisting the asylum seekers will only have restricted access to so-called "sensitive areas" where access is also restricted to the Swiss public, like schools and sports facilities during school hours.
   
The rules were merely aimed to help "organize the cohabitation between the asylum seekers and the town population", Federal Migration Office spokeswoman Gaby Szoelloesy told AFP.
   
Denise Graf of Amnesty International's Swiss section was unconvinced, maintaining that the rules, which require asylum seekers to among other things request permission from the town before accessing the pool, "are clearly discriminatory".
   
And Bremgarten is not the only place where asylum seekers face such discrimination, she said, accusing Bern of making any number of concessions to avoid protests from the communities chosen to house a growing number of temporary asylum centres.
   
Residents in one centre near the central city of Lucerne had for instance been barred from taking the shortest route to the train station, while other centres impose strict curfews, she said.
   
Police meanwhile moved in this week to remove ten asylum seekers who had been camped out for days at the Solothurn train station in northwestern Switzerland to protest their living conditions in a subterranean bunker they described as "unworthy of a human being".
   
Switzerland is one of the countries in Europe that welcomes the most asylum seekers in proportion to its population, with some 48,000 people currently in the process of applying for asylum in the small Alpine nation, including 28,631 who arrived in 2012 -- the highest number since 1999.
   
Amid the recent spike in refugees, Switzerland has been rushing to open a slew of temporary asylum centres.
   
But the Swiss public, which in June overwhelmingly voted to tighten the country's asylum laws, often resist the creation of such centres in their neighbourhoods.
   
Szoelloesy acknowledged that four of the ten communities asked to host new centres since last year had been granted the right to set up "sensitive areas", like Bremgarten, to help avoid "bad feelings" towards the asylum seekers.
   
She echoed Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga's claim last week that in Switzerland, "fundamental rights are not negotiable", and insisted: "our asylum system is fair and humane".
   
Gerry Simpson, senior refugee researcher for Human Rights Watch, welcomed Sommaruga's statement, saying he hoped it meant the rules agreed upon in Bremgarten "may now be revised, and that they won't be repeated elsewhere in Switzerland".
   
"Ninety-nine percent of (asylum seekers) are law-abiding people who just want to live their lives . . . so I don't think (there is a need) to assuage fears with special measures," he said.

"They just need to treat them lawfully and fairly."
   
The ten Solothurn demonstrators, who spent five days protesting their living conditions in a windowless military shelter with insufficient ventilation in the nearby village of Kestenholz, do not feel they have been treated fairly in Switzerland.
   
"There's no air, no windows and 30 people sleeping together . . . that's not the way it should be," Turkish Kurd Abdullah Ochalan complained to public Swiss radio RTS before the protesters were cleared out of the train station early Tuesday.
   
Graf decried the increased use of such shelters.

They are "underground, they stink, there's no air, no light, and its always noisy", she said.
   
"For people who have been traumatised especially it is horrific."
   
Not everyone shares her sympathy.
   
"To tell you the truth, I think that if they are not satisfied with the laws in the country that is housing them they would be better off returning to their countries or going elsewhere," young Solothurn local Maria told RTS.

Nina Larson/AFP (news@thelocal.ch)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Swissmedic warns of weight-loss pill dangers
Photo: Swissmedic

Swissmedic warns of weight-loss pill dangers

Swissmedic, a surveillance agency for medicines, renewed warnings on Tuesday about the dangers of weight-loss remedies purchased through the internet after more than 60 products were tested. READ  

CERN fires up particle smasher after upgrade
Photo: CERN

CERN fires up particle smasher after upgrade

The world's largest particle smasher resumed colliding protons Tuesday as it gradually reboots following a two-year upgrade, the Geneva-based European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) said. READ  

Geneva issues cloud positive HSBC results
Photo: AFP

Geneva issues cloud positive HSBC results

Scandal-hit global bank HSBC on Tuesday posted rising quarterly profits, but added regulators have requested more information about its controversial Geneva-based private bank. READ  

Swiss rank 13th among best places for mums
Photo: Save the Children

Swiss rank 13th among best places for mums

Despite its wealth, Switzerland ranks behind Scandinavian and other European countries among the world's best places to be a mother, according to an annual scorecard from Save the Children International. READ  

More rain renews flood and landslide risks
Photo: Commune de St. Gingolphe /Facebook

More rain renews flood and landslide risks

UPDATED: Many parts of western Switzerland remained on alert as weather forecasters called for additional rain on Tuesday, heightening the risk of more flooding and transportation disruptions. READ  

UBS's healthy Q1 profit exceeds forecasts
Photo: UBS

UBS's healthy Q1 profit exceeds forecasts

UBS, Switzerland’s largest bank, on Tuesday reported higher than expected profits for the first quarter of 2015 of almost two billion francs, virtually twice as high as the same period a year earlier. READ  

Weather delays Pacific leg of solar plane's flight
Pilot André Borschberg: 'inner voyage'. Photo: Solar Impulse

Weather delays Pacific leg of solar plane's flight

The Swiss pilot who will attempt a record flight over the Pacific in a solar-powered plane played down the risks on Monday, describing the mission as a journey of self-discovery. READ  

Frenchman dies in cliff fall while taking photos
Photo: Graubünden cantonal police

Frenchman dies in cliff fall while taking photos

Police on Monday said they have launched an investigation into the death of a 25-year-old Frenchman who fell from a cliff while snapping nature photos in the canton of Graubünden. READ  

Federer gains confidence before French Open
Photo: Ozan Kose/AFP

Federer gains confidence before French Open

Roger Federer said winning an 85th career title at the Istanbul Open tennis tournament had given him a boost in confidence on clay ahead of the French Open later this month. READ  

Torrential rain swells Swiss rivers and lakes
Photo: Monthey municipal police

Torrential rain swells Swiss rivers and lakes

Parts of Western Switzerland continued on Sunday to clear up debris from flash floods triggered by heavy rain over the weekend that swelled rivers and lakes well beyond their normal banks, disrupting transport and prompting the evacuation of residents in two communities. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Travel
Switzerland's trains again ranked best for performance in Europe
National
Ten percent of Swiss farmers fail to meet government regulations
National
Municipality of Zermatt bans taking selfies with Saint Bernard dogs
Business & Money
Salt (formerly Orange) aims to shake up Switzerland's mobile market
National
Switzerland tops 2015 world 'happiness index' developed by UN
National
French president Hollande basks in good vibes from first Swiss visit
National
New book: Swiss architect Le Corbusier was 'out-and-out fascist'
Features
Tasty street food catches on in biggest Swiss cities
Sport
Invasion of frogs forces early end to Zurich football game
National
New ranking downgrades the 'power' of Switzerland's passport
Features
Swiss hotel management schools serve up 'world best' recipe
National
Segways win approval for operation on Swiss bicycle lanes
National
Joan Baez and Sting in lineup for this summer's Paléo music festival
National
Second CERN club skier dies from avalanche in Valais Alps
Sport
Lausanne and IOC celebrate a century of Olympism
National
Bern waters down criteria for beer that can be labelled ‘Swiss’
National
Internet giant Google named most attractive employer in Switzerland
National
VIDEO: Swiss television satire clip ridicules Americans on ski slopes
National
Immigration remains top election issue for Swiss voters: opinion poll
National
Environmental bureau ranks Zurich first among Europe's 'sootfree cities'
National
Zurich crane-climbing stunt by teenager flags 'roofer' concerns
Education
THE ranks EPFL among seven 'fastest rising young universities'
Features
Mobility takes off as young urban Swiss catch the car-sharing bug
Business & Money
Ethical Coffee Company aims to beat Nespresso in home market
National
Use of temporary staffing continues to rise in Switzerland
Features
Six steps for expats to get along better with the Swiss
National
Swiss foreign affairs minister touted as candidate for top UN job
National
One of Switzerland's most celebrated artists dies in Lucerne at 106
Business & Money
Swiss luxury brand Tag Heuer announces plans for smartwatch
National
Valais lights up 13 mountain peaks for 200th anniversary
Business & Money
Switzerland to avoid recession this year: Credit Suisse forecast
Business & Money
Europe's tallest hotel pitched for Swiss mountain village
National
Exlusive interview: surviving Swiss cousin remembers Anne Frank
National
New Credit Suisse chief executive 'offers hope for Africans'
Business & Money
American expat to make way for African as Credit Suisse CEO
Features
Top tips to help you find an apartment in Switzerland
National
Rising Swiss gender pay gap above European Union average
National
Political deal reached to enact Swiss holiday home restrictions
National
Optimism drives this year's Geneva International Motor show
National
Robust Swiss economy beats forecasts for 2014: government
Sport
Federer scores upset win against Djokovic for seventh Dubai title
National
Swiss train in collision near Zurich ignored stop signal: SBB
Technology
Switzerland best in world for per capita European patent filings
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Latest news from The Local in Sweden

More news from Sweden at thelocal.se

4,777
jobs available
?>