Mario Gattiker has said that some 15,255 people applied for asylum in Switzerland in 2018.
This number represents a 15% fall on 2017, when 18,088 people applied for asylum.
The 2017 number represented a decrease of nearly 33% compared to the previous year.
The Swiss Refugee Council (Schweizerische Flüchtlingshilfe) has said the falling numbers reflect Europe’s policy of “rigorous isolation and deterrence.”
Speaking to Blick, Gattiker gave other reasons for the decline.
He said the foremost reason for the falling numbers was Switzerland’s policy of making quick decisions regarding applications. Adding that this means more refugees are forced to leave the country.
Gattiker also said that fewer refugees were seeking asylum in Italy via the Mediterranean, and that those seeking refuge now do so through Spain rather than Morocco and were, therefore, further away from Switzerland.
The Swiss Refugee Council has denied these claims in a public statement, saying that the change in policy regarding refugees in Europe has led to “human rights being trampled underfoot, violence, misery and death.”
The NGO has called on Switzerland to do more to aid asylum seekers with Peter Meier, the director of asylum policy at the Swiss Refugee Council, saying the country “can and has to do more – especially in the rescue.”
Gattiker said that he expects the number of asylum seekers in 2019 to be similar to last year's figures.
But he added that the situation is "volatile" and so applications could rise suddenly.