Switzerland’s tough stance on migrants criticized by Amnesty International

Switzerland has been taken to task by the human rights group Amnesty International for its tough treatment of asylum seekers and migrants.

Switzerland’s tough stance on migrants criticized by Amnesty International
File image of Eritrean asylum seekers in Switzerland. Photo: AFP

The country was violating international legal principles by returning migrants and asylum seekers with rejected asylum claims to countries where they are in danger of persecution, Amnesty said in its annual report published on Thursday.

The human rights group cited the examples “of people with failed asylum claims or undocumented migrants” being sent back to countries including Sri Lanka, Turkey and Sudan where they were at risk of “serious human rights” violations.

In its report into the state of human rights in 159 countries around the world, Amnesty also said concerns remained “regarding the use of disproportionate force during the deportation of migrants” while several asylum seekers had been returned to other Schengen countries under the Dublin regulation “without duly taking into account their family ties in Switzerland”.

According to EU rules enshrined in the Dublin Convention, their applications for asylum should therefore be processed in the first EU country in which they arrive.

Amnesty International also expressed concerns over a highly-controversial initiative put forward for referendum by the right-wing Swiss People’s Party which calls for Swiss law to be given primacy over international law and would see Switzerland renegotiating or even renouncing international treaties, including those on human rights, if necessary.

The ‘Swiss law instead of foreign judges (initiative for self-determination)' has been heavily criticised by the Swiss government who say it would seriously threaten the country’s stability.

No date has been set for the vote.

Geneva Papyrus project

In related news, the first round of results of a pilot project being run in Geneva with the aim of “regularizing” the position of the city’s many undocumented workers has been cautiously welcomed by the State Secretary for Migration Mario Gattiker.

The so-called ‘Papyrus’ project – developed in secret in agreement with federal Swiss authorities in what Geneva's economy minister Pierre Maudet described as a bid to “lift institutional hypocrisy and put an end to the exploitation of people without papers” – has seen 1,093 obtain legal paperwork, Geneva daily the Tribune de Genève reported on Tuesday.

A total of 81 percent of those people are from Latin America with many working as nannies or cleaners.

“I agree that a solution needs to found for these people. The Geneva experience is interesting but I am waiting on the final evaluation,” state migration secretary Gattiker said after the preliminary figures were released.

The Papyrus project is to run until the end of 2018 with some 2,200 to 2,500 people expected to benefit from the scheme. Conditions are strict. Applicants must be financially independent and have no criminal record. In addition, applicants with families must have lived in the canton of Geneva for five years, while that figure is 10 years for singles. A good level of French is also a condition.

Recent figures from the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) suggest there are 13,000 undocumented workers in Geneva and 73,000 in Switzerland.


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”.