• Switzerland's news in English
 
app_header_v3

Asylum seeker protests anger many Swiss

Nina Larson/AFP · 16 Aug 2013, 10:49

Published: 16 Aug 2013 10:49 GMT+02:00

"I really don't understand why this wasn't good enough," Arno Buergi says, furrowing his brow.
   
Only two of the 12 male asylum seekers brought to this northwestern village last Friday are still staying at the makeshift centre.
   
The others left shortly after they were ushered down the hard concrete driveway into the underground military shelter, heading to the train station in the nearby town of Solothurn in protest at living conditions they described as "unworthy of a human being".
   
"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.
   
The protest made international headlines, especially as it came just days after revelations that another Swiss town was restricting access to some public spaces for asylum seekers.
   
The men's quarters of the Kestenholz centre are cramped and the air is stuffy, but the living room, kitchen and bathroom are spacious and well-equipped.
   
"I think the accommodation is good," says Buergi, who took over as mayor just a week before the scandal broke.
   
Walking around the shelter in a tee shirt, shorts and flipflops, he rests a hand on the flat-screen TV and nods towards the fussball table in the next room.
   
"The shelter is OK.," agrees Claudia Haenzi, the head of social affairs in the canton of Solothurn.

"It's completely new and renovated, so it's possible to live there."
   
The shelter, she says, is only a temporary solution while the village and canton search for more suitable housing.
   
Human rights activists warn though that Switzerland, which in recent years has faced a spike in refugee numbers, is increasingly using its multitude of military shelters to house asylum seekers for ever longer periods.
   
Denise Graf of Amnesty International's Swiss section says she knows of asylum seekers who were holed up for nine months in such shelters, which "stink, there's no air, no light, and its always noisy."
   
But in the idyllic town of Solothurn, many people were outraged by the protest of the asylum seekers -- from Syria, Afghanistan and Turkey -- and Haenzi says police ended the demonstration because they feared the men would be attacked.
   
"Our system is the only one I know of where people are given an apartment, food and even money if they choose to go back home," says 50-year-old Maria Lutherbacher.

"Switzerland does too much already," she says.

"They shouldn't complain."

Fabio Jeger, also 50 and who heads a logistics company, agrees.
   
"I did my Swiss military service for several years, and lived in such buildings," he says.

"It's not a first class hotel, but you can live there."

Story continues below…

The asylum seekers should be grateful for what they are given in Switzerland, he says, pointing out that "it's surely better than the situation that they have at home".
   
Others though lament the lack of compassion.
   
"I think many are too quick to pass a harsh judgement on these people, who most often are really refugees," says 58-year-old Solothurn local Brigitta Huegin.
   
"Lots of people here say that if they're not happy they can just go back to where they came from, but often that is just not possible."
   
Matthias Schneeberger, 36, who is waiting for a train home to Bern at the end of his workday in Solothurn, meanwhile, says he understands that people might get upset at the protest.
   
But it is wrong to compare housing conditions in the countries asylum seekers come from and the lodgings they are offered in Switzerland, which has been spared war and hardship for centuries, he insists.
   
"When you come here and see all of the wonderful infrastructure we have here," he says, "it must be difficult to be asked to live (underground)."

Nina Larson/AFP (news@thelocal.ch)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Former head of Zurich Insurance dies aged 59
Martin Senn stepped down from Zurich Insurance last year. Photo: Zurich Insurance

Martin Senn took his own life on Friday, the company has announced.

Murderer escapes from Swiss psych hospital
The escaped killer. Photo: Aargau cantonal police

A man convicted of murdering a young girl in the canton of Ticino in 2009 has escaped from a psychiatric clinic and is still at large 48 hours later.

Weekend storms wreak havoc in Switzerland
File photo: Alexander Boden

Storms and heavy rain cause flooding, power outages and landslides.

Swiss Wawrinka advances to the French Open last-eight
It was Wawrinka's fifth win in five meetings with Troicki. Photo: AFP

Defending champion Stan Wawrinka moves into the French Open quarterfinals.

Vast Swiss rail tunnel finally sees light at end of long wait
Workers standing in one of the Gotthard base access tunnels. Photo: AFP

The Gotthard Base Tunnel opens on Wednesday.

London Olympic athletes fail new doping tests
IOC president Thomas Bach announced the news. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/ADP

The Lausanne-based International Olympic Committee reports 23 new doping failures from 2012 Games.

Swiss supermarkets look to scrap free plastic bags
Coop is among the supermarkets considering the idea. Photo: Coop

Voluntary agreement may be the solution after a commission quashes idea of outright ban.

Head-on crash leaves Swiss motorcyclist dead
The accident happened on the way to Les Mosses. File photo: Falk Lademann

A motorcyclist died in a head-on crash with a car on a mountain road in Vaud.

Bern renews funding for controversial arts centre
Bern town hall. File photo: Dennie Jarvis

The Reitschule has been granted a reprieve after authorities in the city agreed a 1.5 million franc grant to keep it going until 2019.

Neighbours’ day: Swiss cities join growing European party
Around 40 towns in Switzerland will celebrate Neighbours' Day. Photo: Tag der Nachbarn

St Gallen becomes the latest Swiss town to take part in European Neighbours’ Day.

Photo: Swiss Tourism
Features
10 unspoken rules for fitting in with the Swiss
Sponsored Article
Eat, learn, live: unforgettable holidays in France
Photo: Alp Transit Gotthard
National
Gotthard base tunnel: what you need to know
Photo: Caroline Bishop
Sport
Swiss cantons team up to vie for winter Olympic games
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
Photo: Broad Bean Media
National
Basel: Muslim schoolboys must shake hands or face fine
Photo: Emmanual Dunand/AFP
Sport
Brother of Belgian bomber wins gold in Switzerland
Photo: Gstaad Tourism
National
Snow puts end to hottest weekend of year so far
File photo: Abhishek Jacob
Lifestyle
Swiss court vetoes wedding of couple with 50-year age gap
Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP
Culture
Dog day afternoon: Swiss saint meets Pope in Rome
Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP
Business & Money
Pink diamond sold for record-breaking $31m in Geneva
File photo: Candida Performa
Lifestyle
Revealed: living in Switzerland could prolong your life
Photo: Cervo
Travel
In pictures: Switzerland’s most welcoming hotels
Photo: Aargau cantonal government
‘Beast of Rupperswil’ was local football coach
Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP
Features
Geneva exhibition marks 200 years of Frankenstein
Photo AFP
National
Swiss basic income campaign sets Guinness world record
Photo: St Gallen police
Society
Police hunt killer of man shot dead in St Gallen street
File photo: Martin Abegglen
Society
Presumed jihadist could have Swiss nationality quashed
Photo: Zurich Zoo
Culture
Gallery: giant tortoise at Zurich Zoo is mother at 80
Photo: Caroline Bishop
Society
Swiss farmer loses appeal in row over noisy cow bells
Photo: Esparta Palmer
Health
44-year-old woman refused fertility treatment on insurance
File photo: Thomas Coex/AFP
Society
Jilted admirer shocks woman with tattoo... of her face
File photo: Flickr
Health
Swiss school eyes longer holidays for non-smoking staff
4,564
jobs available