SVP pushes ahead with plans to analyse asylum seeker phones

A Swiss National Council committee has come out in support of a parliamentary initiative put forward by the country’s right-wing Swiss People’s Party (SVP) that would allow the electronic devices of asylum seekers to be checked for evidence of their identity.

SVP pushes ahead with plans to analyse asylum seeker phones
File photo of an Eritrean asylum seeker in the canton of Schwyz. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

Around 20,000 asylum seekers arrived in Switzerland without passports or other official identity documents in 2016. This makes the task of verifying their identity or country of origin difficult.

The SVP believes accessing the mobile phones, tablets and laptops could aid in this process and it has now won the backing of a lower house parliamentary committee which supported the move with 17 votes in favour and seven against.

“I am relieved. Anyone who is being followed, and is risking life and limb has no legitimate reason not to reveal their identity to the state that is offering them asylum,” said SVP national councillor Gregor Rutz, who initially put forward the proposal.

Explaining how the measure could work, Rutz told Swiss tabloid Blick that anyone who claimed they were Somalian but made a lot of calls to the Ivory Coast was giving probably giving up information about their real origin.

Rutz told Blick that anyone who refused to comply with the measure would be sent home. “With this new possibility we are sending out a clear signal that we don’t accept fake asylum seekers. Then fewer people will come here because Switzerland is less attractive,” said the politician.

But Greens national councillor Sibel Arslan was quick to slam the measure, saying it would be an intrusion into the private life of those concerned. She described it as “legally dubious” and “disproportionate.”

Arslan said it was unclear what would be done with any data obtained and who would have access to this. She also noted there was a danger this was the start of a slippery slope with the practice being used for other purposes.

The national councillor went on to note that people who really wanted to hide their identity could use apps where data was deleted instantly or change their SIM cards over. “The proposal is a fake populist solution,” she said.

The SVP proposal is still some way from seeing final approval. It must now be looked at by an upper house committee before a possible vote in the Swiss parliament at a later stage.


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”.