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IMMIGRATION

Swimming pool turns away Syrian asylum seekers

A swimming pool in Lucerne is facing complaints of discrimination after placing a limit on the number of asylum seekers allowed in the pool at any one time.

Swimming pool turns away Syrian asylum seekers
File photo of a swimming pool. Photo: Dushan Hanuska/Flickr

Yannick Hagmann, a 35-year-old who volunteers with asylum seekers, told Sonntags Blick that he took some Syrians to the pool in Meggen at the weekend, but the group were refused entry by staff.

Despite the pool being open, Hagmann says a lifeguard prevented them from entering. “He held a note from the parish under our noses which said that no more than three asylum seekers may use the pool at the same time,” Hagmann told the newspaper.

The regulation – which also only allows asylum seekers access on two days each week – had in fact been in effect for three weeks before Hagmann's visit. The municipality stated the reason as “the size of the pool and the very limited space available”.

Hagmann admits that at eight by 20 metres, the pool is relatively small. However, he likened the regulation to “the apartheid regime”, saying: “It cannot be that a particular group of the population is excluded.”

A law professor at Basel University, Markus Schefer, told 20 Minuten that the limit “contravenes the ban on discrimination in the Swiss Constitution and so could be illegal”. He added that although limits can be placed on occupancy for safety reasons, “these should apply to everyone and not just asylum seekers”.

Although the Swiss Constitution does not allow discrimination, the pool has been labelled a “sensitive zone” because it is within school grounds, meaning that special conditions may be applied.

It's not the first time that swimming pools in Europe have caused a stir for preventing access to migrants. In January, a German town banned male asylum seekers from public swimming pools after complaints from women that they were being harassed by migrants.

And one month before that, France’s leading legal rights body was called in to investigate after it emerged that a swimming pool in Calais, where 4,500 refugees are camped out, had effectively banned them from entering by introducing ID checks.

IMMIGRATION

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”.

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