Asylum requests hit nine-year low in Switzerland

The number of requests for asylum in Switzerland was down nearly a fifth in the first nine months of 2018 and at its lowest level since 2010.

Asylum requests hit nine-year low in Switzerland
Migrants aboard the MV Aquarius rescue ship on the Mediterranean in May 2018. File photo: AFP

A total of 11,484 people requested asylum in the country from January to June, down 17.5 percent on a year earlier, according to statistics released on Tuesday by the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM).

That is the lowest figure for the first nine months of the year since 2010.

Read also: UN condemns Switzerland over deportation of Eritrean torture victim

The SEM said the number was down on previous years because migration via the central Mediterranean route had decreased significantly and because Switzerland was no longer a primary destination country for asylum seekers who entering Western Europe using this route.

In a statement, the SEM said 1,749 asylum requests were filed in Switzerland in September with 279 being rejected. A further 319 people were granted asylum and 643 were temporarily admitted.

The largest groups of asylum seekers were Eritreans (155 people, down 54), Turks (113), Afghans (111) and Syrians (107).

The SEM says it now estimates there will be up to a maximum of 19,000 asylum requests in Switzerland to the end of the year.

But the agency said the final figure would depend on the situation in Libya and how many people cross the Mediterranean in coming months.

Read also: Swiss NGOs rescue missions in Med grounded


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”.