Switzerland sees record number of asylum seekers ‘disappear’

Between January and the end of November 2016 some 8,166 asylum seekers in Switzerland dropped out of the system without telling Swiss authorities, according to the Swiss migration office (SEM).

Switzerland sees record number of asylum seekers ‘disappear’
Asylum seekers at a reception centre in a military bunker in Realp (canton of Uri). Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP
That’s a huge rise on previous years. In 2015 some 4,943 asylum seekers ‘disappeared’, while in 2014 the figure was 5,501.
In 2016 the majority of those who left the system were from the African continent, including Eritrea (801), Gambia (792), Nigeria (716), Guinea (508), Algeria (504) and Somalia (494).
Martin Reichlin, a spokesman for the SEM, told news agency ATS there are several reasons asylum seekers may choose to drop out of the system without telling Swiss authorities. They might think their asylum request is about to be rejected, or they may want to go and find family members in other countries. 
The SEM believes that most of those who disappear leave Switzerland, most probably for Germany, Reichlin added.


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”.