Swiss activists held in France for helping migrants cross Alps

Four Italians and two Swiss activists were taken into custody in France on Monday for helping a group of migrants cross over from Italy via the Alps, prosecutors said.

Swiss activists held in France for helping migrants cross Alps
Migrants at a shelter in Briançon, southeastern France, on Monday. Photo: AFP

The prosecutor's office in the Alpine town of Gap told AFP the six were detained for “helping illegal immigrants enter national territory”.

Read also: Switzerland's tough stance on migrants criticised by Amnesty International

The group are accused of helping around 30 migrants cross into France via the Montgenevre Pass on Sunday when around a hundred activists, most of them French and Italian, crossed the border with the group.

The activists and migrants clashed briefly with security forces at the ski station before making it to a migrant aid centre in the nearby French town of Briançon.

The incident came after far-right activists from the pan-European movement Generation Identity blocked the nearby Echelle pass in protest at the rise in migrant crossings of the Alps, as other routes around Europe have been shut down.

The group unveiled a massive banner on the mountain reading “Closed border, you will not make Europe home! No way. Back to your homeland!”

Thousands of young men from francophone west Africa have trudged across the mountains over the past two years, dreaming of jobs in France.

Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said both “far left and far right” groups were responsible for “unacceptable action” on the mountain, hours before lawmakers passed a controversial new immigration law.

Read also: Human traffickers prey on migrants and rescuers alike in French Alps

The law offers more help to those granted refugee status in integrating in France, but also makes it easier to deport those rejected as “economic” migrants.

Rights groups object to provisions that allow failed asylum-seekers to be detained for up to 90 days pending deportation and a reduction of the time in which people can appeal a rejected claim to just two weeks.


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”.