Anti-racism chief slams SVP asylum seeker plan

The Swiss People’s Party’s idea to intern asylum seekers who break the law has found no favour with the Commission against Racism.

Anti-racism chief slams SVP asylum seeker plan
Swiss Federal Assembly

The government expressed its disdain for the proposal on Monday by stating that such a measure would “not be possible in a state of law.”

“Deprivation of liberty is far from trivial. This is a serious violation of human rights,” the president of the Commission Against Racism, Martine Brunschwig Graf told newspaper Tribune de Genève in an interview.

Graf, a Liberal party member of parliament, pointed out that Switzerland already has the means for dealing with people who have broken the law or who refuse to return home. In particular, she pointed to the possibility in most cases of forcible returns.

However Graf acknowledged that there remains an issue for citizens of certain countries with whom Switzerland has no re-admission agreements in place. Nevertheless, she queried what would happen to these people should the internment idea succeed.

“Will we leave them locked up indefinitely with no prospect of getting out as it is impossible to return them? These people have not killed anyone!” she asked.

Graf believes that the issues are becoming further complicated by the political rhetoric used, particularly because the government is often seen as failing to deliver on its promises with regard to immigration. This in turn leads to disappointment and discontent, according to Graf.

She also said she could understand that people who had been in the country for four to five years would want to stay.

“This does not make them criminals,” she said.

“These refugees, economic or otherwise, do not come with a light heart. They come to Switzerland to find another life, and unfortunately, we do not have the capacity to accommodate them all.” 

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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”.