Swiss target airlines in asylum crackdown

Airlines which transport passengers illegally into Switzerland will be subject to steep fines from October 1st in a new rule that aims to cut down on the number of asylum seekers.

Swiss target airlines in asylum crackdown
Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP

A minimum fine of 4,000 francs ($4,100) per passenger will be applied to airlines who transport illegal passengers from outside the Schengen zone into Switzerland, news agency ATS reported on Wednesday.

The fine will rise to 16,000 francs ($16,500) in serious cases.

The new rule, approved by the federal government on Wednesday, will alter the burden of responsibility for illegal passengers.

At the moment, authorities have to prove that airlines have failed to exercise the correct checks on their customers.

From October 1st that will change, so airlines must prove a passenger is in possession of valid papers, said ATS.

Airlines will only escape a fine if they can demonstrate they took all reasonable and necessary measures to avoid transporting a passenger without the required papers, or if the passenger used false documents that were not readily detectable.

The new law will also allow the Swiss authorities better access to information about potential asylum seekers arriving in the country, reports ATS.

At the moment, it’s down to airlines themselves to choose to transmit information on the identity and itinerary of passengers on certain flights to Swiss border control after takeoff.

After October 1st, Swiss authorities will have automatic access to such information.

The Swiss migration office will also be able to compel an airline to divulge information on certain flights and passengers, or face a fine of 4,000 to 12,000 francs per flight.  

The new law comes as Switzerland continues to assess its stance towards the worsening refugee crisis across Europe.

The Swiss government predicts that it will receive around 30,000 asylum requests this year.

It has already received 20 percent more requests from January to July 2015 than during the same period last year.

A Basel University survey published by the Schweiz am Sonntag weekly last weekend revealed that  83.1 percent of those questioned wanted Switzerland to provide generous assistance in the places where the crisis is unfolding, rather than by taking more refugees into the Alpine nation.
Two thirds of the people polled said they feared allowing too many refugees into Switzerland would hurt the country's prosperity, while 44.6 percent said they wanted Swiss borders temporarily closed.

Eritreans are the largest group of asylum seekers in Switzerland, followed by Somalis, Sir Lankans and Syrians.

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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”.