Muslim school kids must swim to be Swiss

Authorities in Basel have denied two Muslim teenage girls a Swiss passport because they refused to participate in school swimming lessons and residential camps on religious grounds.

Muslim school kids must swim to be Swiss
Swimming lessons are compulsory in Basel's education system. Photo: Daniel Orth

The case, which occurred last year but was made public by broadcaster SRF on Monday, involved two sisters, aged 12 and 14.

Speaking to the broadcaster, Stefan Wehrle, president of the naturalization committee involved in the decision, said young people wishing to become Swiss citizens must prove they are meeting the requirements of the Swiss education system.

Since swimming lessons are compulsory in Basel’s schools – and in many other places in Switzerland including Zurich and Bern – failing to attend means a student is not meeting requirements.

“Whoever doesn’t fulfill these conditions violates the law and therefore cannot be naturalized,” Wehrle said.

Swiss courts have previously refused the pleas of several Muslim families to exempt their children from swimming lessons, saying integration comes before religion.  

And authorities in Basel have dished out fines to the parents of Muslim children who refuse to participate in swimming lessons.

However this is the first time a citizenship application has been refused on such grounds, making it a case that could set a precedent in the canton, said the broadcaster.

Proof of integration is a vital part of becoming naturalized in Switzerland, a process involving cantonal and communal authorities including a resident-led committee.

The perceived lack of integration of Muslim children in Swiss schools has frequently made headlines of late.

Earlier this year two Muslim schoolboys in Therwil refused to shake hands with their female teachers on religious grounds, causing uproar across the country.

Their school initially exempted them from shaking hands, before authorities ruled they must shake or face a fine.

On Monday SRF said the two girls in the swimming case also refused to shake hands with teachers.

But since handshaking is not a compulsory part of education that was not a factor in the decision, said the broadcaster.

The Therwil boys have also applied for citizenship, and a decision is still pending.


Swiss school closures cut Covid spread: new study

Switzerland's decision in the spring to shutter schools was one of the most effective measures in reducing mobility and thus also transmission of Covid-19, a study showed on Sunday.

Swiss school closures cut Covid spread: new study
School girls in Lausanne on their way to school at the end of Switzerland's first lockdown. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini / AFP
Researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, ETH, determined that the closure of Swiss schools last March was responsible for cutting mobility by more than a fifth.
“School closures reduced mobility by 21.6 percent,” Stefan Feuerriegel, an ETH professor of management information systems who headed the study, told AFP in an email.
“School closures reduce mobility, (which) then reduces new cases” of Covid-19, he said.
In a tweet, he said his team had analysed some 1.5 billion movements in Swiss telecommunication data between February 10 and April 26 last year to evaluate the impact on mobility as various anti-Covid measures were introduced.
In decentralised Switzerland, its 26 cantons introduced measures at different paces before a country-wide partial lockdown, including school closures, was ordered on March 16.
Schools across the country remained closed for about two months before gradually opening up again.
The study, which has yet to be peer-reviewed, found school closures ranked third in terms of reducing mobility.
At the top of the list was a ban on gatherings of more than five people, which was seen slashing mobility by 24.9 percent, and the closure of restaurants, bars and non-essential shops, which caused people to move about 22.3 percent less, the study shows.
Feuerriegel said it was not surprising that school closures had such a big impact on people's movements.
“If schools are closed, we can expect a large change in behaviour,” he said, pointing out that “not only will kids stay home, but sometimes it also requires their parents to change their mobility as well.”
School closures have been among the most controversial measures introduced around the world to help rein in the pandemic.
Children are far less likely to develop severe illness from Covid-19 than older people, but it remains unclear how much they transmit the virus.   
The ETH study does not address that, but indicates that school closures can significantly reduce transmission by prompting people to move about and mingle less.
“Our analysis confirms school closure as a measure to slow the spread, through reduced mobility,” Feuerriegel said.