Miriam Behrens, director of the Swiss Refugee Council (SFH), travelled to the border at Chiasso and to the Italian city of Como on Wednesday and Thursday to assess the situation of refugees and “ensure that the rights of people looking for protection are entirely guaranteed,” she said in a statement.
Switzerland has been under fire for several weeks after turning back thousands of migrants from the Swiss border.
Any refugee has the right to claim asylum when they reach Switzerland. If they do, they should be registered with the Swiss migration office (SEM) and their application processed in due course. If they do not, because they want to transit through Switzerland and claim asylum in another country such as Germany, the terms of the Dublin agreement state they should be sent back to the first EU country they arrived in, in this case Italy.
In July alone over 3,000 people were sent back from Switzerland to Italy, news agencies said last week.
The Swiss border guards office says it is simply applying the law. However the situation has caused chaos in Como, where many refugees are now sleeping at the train station and in parks after being turned back.
Last week Amnesty International called for clarification from the Swiss after reports that children were being sent back from the border.
Now the SFH says confusion at the border is making it difficult for people to claim asylum.
“People who seek protection are not being sufficiently and correctly informed, which leads to confusion regarding exactly when they can lodge their asylum request,” it said in a statement.
“The situation is difficult for all parties concerned,” it added, saying there should be “more transparency” regarding the procedures in place and the asylum process.
It said Swiss border guards “need much more help” in terms of translators and child protection specialists in order to properly deal with those seeking to place an asylum request.
All those who wish to seek asylum in Switzerland should be put into the care of the SEM “even if there are doubts regarding their motives for seeking asylum”, it added.
While the number of people requesting asylum has gone down across the Schengen zone since last year, its member states do not have a satisfactory solution to the question of refugees in transit, it said.
Mechanisms for the redistribution of refugees were needed “to guarantee the protection of those concerned” and Switzerland should play its part in this, said the SFH.
In a statement on its website, the SEM outlined its policy – which applies to minors as well as adult refugees – and stressed that the border “is not closed”, refuting the claims made by some international media.
Switzerland respects the Dublin agreement and “cannot become a country for the transit of unregulated migration”, said the statement.
“Switzerland has long been seeking a unified European policy regarding asylum.”
“The difficult situation for those concerned at the southern border shows that clearly no single European country can meet the challenge alone – not Italy, not Germany and not Switzerland.”
Europe must find “lasting solutions” by working together, it said.