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Justice minister pledges asylum overhaul

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11:21 CEST+02:00

The Swiss Refugee Council has praised justice minister Simonetta Sommarug for a proposal it said would help speed up the process of granting or rejecting asylum. 

Sommaruga said her plan, presented on Monday and backed by a parliamentary committee, would lead to fundamental changes to the Swiss system of dealing with asylum cases, news agency SDA reports.

Sommaruga, a Social Democrat, said 80 percent of asylum cases could be handled at new national refugee centres. Cases requiring additional clarification would be referred to cantonal centres, but such cases were rare, she said.

The minister anticipated that the reform would dramatically reduce the amount of time required to decide asylum cases, from an average of 1,400 days in today's splintered system to 120 days after the proposed reform.

Sommaruga indicated that the new national centres would bundle all the services required by asylum seekers under one roof, providing everything from advisory and legal services to healthcare. She stressed that the national centres would not be "internment camps", as suggested by political opponents. Refugees living at the centres would be free to leave the grounds, she said.

The minister expects the asylum system reform bill to reach parliament at the end of next year.

The Swiss Refugee Council said it welcomed the move to handle asylum cases in a fast and fair manner, which it said would be beneficial to everybody involved in the process.

The right-wing Swiss People's Party (SVP), however, criticized the proposal. The SVP, the largest party in the Swiss parliament, said it regretted that Sommaruga's report focused on the construction of new buildings and systems that would potentially prove very expensive. It also decried further delays to the reform of a system it said was in "urgent" need of an overhaul.

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