‘Teachers will not be turned into snitches’

A proposal that would see schools sharing information on the undocumented parents of their students with other state bodies has been heavily criticized by the education sector.

'Teachers will not be turned into snitches'
File archive of school children. Photo: AFP

The proposal put forward by the National Council’s social security and public health commission is part of a plan the commission says will help forge more coherent legislation for people who live and work in Switzerland without proper papers – a group the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) estimates numbers from 58,000 to 105,000 people.

Under the motion put forward by a commission dominated by right-wing politicians, undocumented people in Switzerland would be stripped off their current access to certain welfare benefits and to health cover. Employers hiring people without the right to work in the country would face stiffer penalties.

But a section of the motion calling for processes enabling the sharing of information on undocumented people between government agencies – and citing education as an example –has come in for particular criticism.

If the proposal were to be implemented, it would become easier for teachers of school children with undocumented parents to report the status of those mothers and fathers to the authorities. Currently it is forbidden for schools and teachers to pass on this information.

“We teachers do not work for the migration department and definitely won’t become snitches. Children and teenagers in Switzerland have a right to education that is completely independent of their migration status” Beat W. Zemp, president of the Swiss teacher’s federation, said to Swiss daily the Tages-Anzeiger in response to the proposal.

Zemp said the move would “seriously damage” relations between parents, schools and teachers if teachers began sounding out their students about their parents’ migration status.

Emilie Graff with the Swiss commission for youth affairs (EKKJ) has also spoken out against the plan, telling national broadcaster RTS that a worst-case scenario could involve undocumented people pulling their children out of school, or even blaming their children if they were reported to the police and later deported.

But the president of the National Council’s social security and public health commission, Thomas de Courten with the Swiss People’s Party (SVP), has defended the plans. He argues that critics risk hurting the interests of undocumented migrants by leaving them in an “irresponsible” legal limbo. He says the plan aims to tackle what is currently a completely unsatisfactory situation regarding this group.

The National Council plans to look at the proposal in the upcoming spring session, but left-wing politicians have already said they plan to attack it strongly during the parliamentary debate.



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”.