Swiss join bid to combat refugee smuggling

Switzerland, Germany and Italy are preparing to launch a joint task force to detect and dismantle networks smuggling refugees and migrants into Europe, Swiss authorities said on Friday.

Swiss join bid to combat refugee smuggling
Forensic officers work at a truck found to contain dead migrants on a motorway in Austria on Thursday. Photo: Dieter Nagl/AFP

The taskforce, which has been in the planning stage for months, will begin working next month, federal police spokeswoman Cathy Maret told AFP.
The announcement came as Europe was reeling from the discovery on Thursday of 71 decomposing bodies in an abandoned truck in Austria — in a grim reminder of the ruthlessness of human traffickers.
Meanwhile, Libyan rescue workers recovered 76 bodies from yet another capsized boat crammed with people trying to flee across the Mediterranean amid fears the toll could rise as high as 200.
In Switzerland, the fight against human trafficking is handled at a regional level, and it is the canton of Ticino, which borders Italy, which is in charge of the tri-national taskforce, Maret said, although Swiss federal authorities were also supporting the project.
The taskforce will be based in the small Swiss town of Chiasso on the Italian border, and will be manned by Swiss border guards and German and Italian police.
“It will be tasked with detecting, pursuing and dismantling the smuggling networks,” she said.
Switzerland is both a destination point for migrants as well as an important transit point, with two main routes passing through the country.
One stretches from Ticino, where Chiasso is located, and leads through Basel in the far north then on to Germany, and the other goes Italy to towards France.
The number of people arriving in Chiasso by train from Italy — and often immediately sent back there — has been steadily climbing in recent months.
Switzerland officially registered 7,384 asylum requests in the second quarter of this year, marking a 64-percent increase over the first three months of this year and a 47-percent rise from the same period a year ago.
Eritreans make up the largest group of asylum seekers in Switzerland, with 3,238 requests in the second quarter, followed by Somalis, Sri Lankans and Syrians.


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”.