• Switzerland edition
 
Swiss slammed over treatment of refugees
Guards confer at a military bunker used as a temporary asyum centre in Realp, Central Switzerland. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP

Swiss slammed over treatment of refugees

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

Don't miss...X
Left Right

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Petkovic selects squad ahead of England game
Switzerland's Bosnian coach Vladimir Petkovic reveals his squad during a press conference. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP

Petkovic selects squad ahead of England game

Switzerland manager Vladimir Petkovic on Friday brought Olympiakos midfielder Pajtim Kasami back into the squad and called up three new faces for their opening Euro 2016 qualifier against England. READ  

Fribourg Jazz Parade officially bankrupt
The Jazz festival had accumulated significant debts. Photo: Link-Art/Francois Gendre

Fribourg Jazz Parade officially bankrupt

The Jazz Parade in Marly, canton of Fribourg, whose 26th edition was cancelled in July due to heavy rains and “internal problems”, has been declared bankruptcy. READ  

Expats boost high rise in Swiss population
Photo: Richard Allaway

Expats boost high rise in Swiss population

Over two-thirds of Switzerland’s population growth in 2013 can be attributed to foreign immigrants, according to figures published by the Swiss federal office of statistics (BFS). READ  

No repatriation plan for Swiss Ebola victims
Swiss air rescue service Rega is not equipped to deal with the challenges of Ebola. Photo: Rega

No repatriation plan for Swiss Ebola victims

Switzerland does not have the resources to repatriate Swiss victims of the Ebola virus from disease-hit countries and must rely on foreign help, according to a newspaper report published on Thursday. READ  

Frenchman is latest base-jumping fatality
More than 35 people have died base-jumping in Lauterbrunnen. Photo: Caroline Bishop

Frenchman is latest base-jumping fatality

A French base-jumper died near Lauterbrunnen in the Bernese Oberland on Wednesday afternoon after crash-landing into a tree, Bern cantonal police confirmed on Thursday. READ  

Geneva group seeks ways to govern internet
WEF's Klaus Schwab: avoiding "fragmenting" the internet. Photo: AFP/File

Geneva group seeks ways to govern internet

The Geneva-based World Economic Forum unveiled a project on Thursday aimed at connecting governments, businesses, academia, technicians and civil society worldwide to brainstorm the best ways to govern the internet. READ  

Media executive jailed in latest 'sexting' case
Photo: Junpal Abe

Media executive jailed in latest 'sexting' case

A 57-year-old man who passed himself off as a 12-year-old girl in online chatrooms in order to obtain naked photos of children was sentenced to four and a half years in prison by a Zurich district court on Wednesday. READ  

Swiss bank Lombard Odier reveals profits
Lombard Odier is the second Swiss private bank in a week to publish its profits. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP

Swiss bank Lombard Odier reveals profits

Swiss private bank Lombard Odier has published its first results since its foundation over two centuries ago, as the ultra-discreet sector puts its books in the spotlight. READ  

Police car kills man lying on Fribourg motorway
The police car was travelling to an altercation in Payerne. Photo: Alain Rouiller

Police car kills man lying on Fribourg motorway

A police car hit and killed a 22-year-old man who was lying in the middle of the A1 motorway near Bussy in the canton of Fribourg in the early hours of Thursday morning. READ  

Swiss pick Swedes as ideal neighbours
Two-thirds of the Swiss surveyed would choose Sweden as their neighbour. Photo: Florian Prischl

Swiss pick Swedes as ideal neighbours

Despite launching a campaign to help Chinese people tell the difference between them, it turns out Switzerland and Sweden feel akin after all. Swiss people would rather have the nation of Ikea and ABBA as their neighbour than any other EU country, according to a new survey. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Health
Increase in mountain bike accidents keeps Swiss hospitals busy
National
Swiss policeman belatedly hailed for saving Jews from Holocaust
National
'Suicide tourists' to Switzerland double in three years: study
National
Swiss Post SMS scheme gets stamp of approval after pilot project
Business & Money
American tax evasion crackdown hits Swiss private banks' bottom line
Politics
Woman accuses Swiss politician in nude selfies scandal of lying
National
Villagers in Graubünden valley reject hydro plant to protect vultures
Business & Money
Court rules against appellation for absinthe from Neuchâtel valley
National
Two hundred passengers rescued after landslide derails Swiss train
Travel
Switzerland remains world champion for per capita train travel
Culture
Social media backlash forces Polanski to bow out of Locarno film festival
National
Two policemen identified among three Israelis killed in train crash
Features
Untouched Alps: The Local explores Switzerland's only national park
National
Swiss government secretary tweets nude ‘selfies’ taken at work
International
Swiss couples fined in Ibiza for making love in van without seatbelts
National
Schumacher medical record theft suspect hangs himself in Zurich cell
National
Thousands of motorists drive without permits in Switzerland: report
National
Switzerland celebrates the centennial of national park in Graubünden
National
Animal rights group protests over dead fish throwing at festival
National
Federer forced to tear down kids' play area at Graubünden holiday home
National
Zurich taxis charge world’s most expensive fares: new survey
National
Swiss bus driver charged with careless driving in fatal Norway crash
National
European Union rejects Swiss bid to rejig freedom of movement deal
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

2,039
jobs available