Monasteries should take in asylum seekers: priest

Monasteries should offer accommodation to asylum seekers, Catholic priest Andreas Rellstab believes, but his proposal has met with resistence from other clerics.

“For us as a Christian community, it’s a shame that no one wants to take in the asylum seekers,” Rellstab told the Catholic television programme “Das Wort zum Sonntag” (‘Sunday Word’). 

The 46-year-old Swiss priest argued that there were plenty of places and facilities available, with the numbers of people living in monasteries dropping all the time, newspaper Blick reported. 

But the proposal has received very little support.

“Of course we have the space. But they would not fit into our community,” Franciscan monk Rene Fox told the newspaper.

Sister Rut-Maria Buschor of the Benedictine Abbey of St. Andreas in Sarnen, near Luzern, is also against the idea.

“We do have a really big convent. But we do not want to take anyone because it does not fit into our quiet life. Nobody says that people should take asylum seekers into their homes,” she said.

One Benedictine convent in canton Obwalden has agreed to the idea in principal. The problem, according to Prioress Daniela Bieri, is that the location is very remote and she does not know what the asylum seekers would do all day.

She also doubts, based on previous experience, that the local villagers would welcome the immigrant population.

Walter Müller of the Bishops’ Conference said the fact that these communities live in silence would make it very difficult for them to accommodate asylum seekers, despite the fact that many have available space.

He also pointed out that finding shelter for people was not the job of the church but of the state. 

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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”.