Asylum seekers to be allocated to cantons using artificial intelligence

The government is to launch a pilot project that uses artificial intelligence to decide where to place asylum seekers to improve their chances of finding a job.

Asylum seekers to be allocated to cantons using artificial intelligence
An Eritrean asylum seeker working in a sawmill in Schwyz. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP

From September 1,000 people who have lodged an asylum application will be allocated to different cantons using a computer algorithm developed by researchers at the ETH Zurich and Stanford University in the United States, SRF television’s 10vor10 news programme reported.

Instead of distributing applicants randomly, as at present, the authorities will be able to place them in the cantons where they have the best chances of employment.

At present only 15 percent of asylum seekers have managed to find a job after three years, according to SRF.

It is hoped that using the computer programme the number finding work after three years will increase to 30 percent. 

The algorithm calculates the right canton for the individual applicant on the basis of a number of factors including their age, country of origin, language and gender. 

It decides which local area provides the best fit, taking into account the language spoken and the presence of ethnic minority networks. 

This could mean placing a French speaker in western Switzerland where they can communicate rather than in a German-speaking canton where they cannot.

At the same time legal guidelines stipulating that different nationalities be distributed evenly among the cantons will continue to apply.

Daniel Bach, a spokesman for the State Secretariat for Migration, said the algorithm would take these regulations into account when it made its recommendations.

It could mean, for instance, that young Syrians are more likely to be allocated to rural cantons where agricultural work is available whereas older Syrians would be sent to cantons offering employment in the services sector, the newspaper 20 Minuten reported.

According to Professor Dominik Hangartner, the idea behind the algorithm is to find solutions that improve the asylum process and the level of applicants’ integration, a news release on the ETH website said.

“At the end of the day it eases the burden on government, cantons and communes if migrants can find work,” he said.

Hangartner said other countries were also interested in using the technology.

Only those asylum seekers considered to have the best chances of remaining in Switzerland will be included in the project.


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”.