A Zurich court looks set to close a loophole in a new law that bars people without legal status from marrying Swiss nationals.

"/> A Zurich court looks set to close a loophole in a new law that bars people without legal status from marrying Swiss nationals.

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Justice ministry seeks to close marriage loophole

A Zurich court looks set to close a loophole in a new law that bars people without legal status from marrying Swiss nationals.

Justice ministry seeks to close marriage loophole
Scott Snyder (File)

The law — dubbed Lex Brunner after its instigator, far-right SVP leader Toni Brunner — was introduced in January last year to prevent asylum seekers from abusing the system and getting around rejections of their asylum applications by marrying Swiss nationals.

The problem with the new law is that it may infringe the human right to marry under the European Convention on Human Rights, newspaper Tages Anzeiger reported on Wednesday.

As a result of this discrepancy, certain cantons have started granting illegal immigrants the right to marry Swiss citizens.

In Bern and Vaud, for example, illegal immigrants with criminal records have been given the green light to wed in direct contravention of the law.

But a recent case in Zurich may lead to the re-establishment of the marriage rules.

In 2008, a young man entered the country illegally. His application for asylum was rejected and he was given until August 2010 to leave the country.

He failed to do so and recently requested permission to marry a Swiss woman.

His request was turned down and he appealed to the Department of Justice, which supported his appeal in part and instructed the registry office to review the pair’s application.

However, in order to prevent the law being set aside as it has been in the other cantons, the Federal Office of Justice has submitted the case to the cantonal administrative court.

This court has no discretion in its interpretation of the rules, which will mean that if the foreign fiancé is unable to present evidence of his legal residency in Switzerland, he will be refused permission to marry.

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Amnesty decries Swiss asylum centre abuse

Minors and adults housed in Swiss asylum centres have faced serious abuses at the hands of security staff, including beatings and chokeholds, Amnesty International warned Wednesday.

Amnesty decries Swiss asylum centre abuse
An asylum centre in the Alpine village of Realp, Central Switzerland. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

In a report, the rights organisation’s Swiss chapter detailed “alarming abuse” in the country’s federal asylum centres, and called for urgent government action to address the problem.

The report documents a range of abuses by staff of the private security companies Securitas and Protectas, which had been contracted by Switzerland’s State Secretariat for Migration (SEM).

Amnesty said it had spoken with 14 asylum seekers, including two minors, who reported having faced abuse from the security officers between January 2020 and April 2021, along with 18 current and former security agents and other witnesses.

The asylum seekers described being beaten and physically restrained to the point where they could not breathe or fainted.

Some also complained about trouble breathing after being doused with pepper spray, and being locked in a metal container in freezing temperatures.

The report found that six of the alleged victims had to be hospitalised, while two said they had been denied the medical assistance they had requested.

“In addition to complaints about physical pain, mistreatment and punitive treatment, these people also voiced concerns about (security staff’s) hostility, prejudice and racism towards the residents,” said Alice Giraudel, a lawyer with Amnesty’s Swiss branch.

Such attitudes had seemed to target people of North African origin in particular, she said. Some of the abuse cases, Amnesty said, “could amount to torture”, and would thus violate Switzerland’s obligations under international law.

In a media statement, the SEM said it took the criticism “very seriously”, but rejected the suggestion that abuses were taking place in a systematic manner in federal asylum centres.

It stressed that there was no acceptance for “disproportionate constraint” of asylum seekers, and vowed to “sanction all improper behaviour.”

Giraudel hailed that the SEM had recently announced it would open an external probe into isolated abuse allegations.

But, she insisted, the situation was alarming and required the government to stop looking at allegations of abuse as the work of “a few bad apples”.