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Where in Switzerland do all the international residents live?

Almost one third of adult residents of Switzerland are born outside the country - but where in Switzerland do they all live? We take a closer look.

Where in Switzerland do all the international residents live?
The Swiss city of Bern. Photo: Depositphotos

Figures from the Swiss Federal Statistical Office have provided a breakdown of where foreigners live in Switzerland – and how many there are. 

Among Swiss residents 15 years of age and over, 30.2 percent are not born in Switzerland – a total of 2,165,000 people out of just over seven million people in Switzerland aged 15 or over. The total population of Switzerland is 8.5 million.

A further 7.3 percent – 521,000 – are second-generation Swiss, meaning that almost 40 percent of adult Swiss have a migration background. 

READ: Do foreigners living in Switzerland have a lower quality of life? 

While every Swiss canton has foreign-born residents, that number is much higher in the largest Swiss cantons. 

In Zurich, Switzerland’s largest canton, 439,000 residents are foreign-born – making up roughly 34.5 percent of the population. 

In Vaud, 274,000 are foreign-born (41.5 percent), along with 163,000 (28.6 percent) in Argau and 143,000 (50.8 percent) in Geneva. 

At the other end of the spectrum, there are approximately 1,000 foreign-born residents of Appenzell Innerrhoden (11.2 percent), along with 4,000 in Obwalden (13.5 percent) and 5,000 in Uri (15.9 percent). 

Percentage change

When compared to 2018 figures, there was a slight increase in the foreign-born population, from 30 percent to 30.2 percent – or 2,134,000 to 2,165,000 (an increase of 31,000). 

Going back to 2012, where the foreign-born percentage of the population was 27,7 percent (1,870,000), there has been an increase of 295,000 foreigners. 

In numbers: What do we know about Switzerland’s foreign residents?

Swiss-born children of immigrants

The figures also showed how many Swiss were ‘second generation’, i.e. they had been born in the country but their parents were not born in Switzerland. 

Second generation Swiss children of foreigners make up 7.3 percent of the population. 

The largest percentage of second generation Swiss resides in Ticino (12.2 percent), Geneva (11.7 percent), Solothurn (8.8 percent) and Zurich (8.6 percent). 

A boat on the border between Italy and Switzerland. Photo: Depositphotos

Migration background

When taking into account foreign-born residents as well as second generation Swiss, a total of 37.5 percent of the adult population has a recent background of migration. 

As with the first generation statistics, by and large the bigger Swiss cities had the highest numbers of foreigners or Swiss with a migrant background. 

Almost two thirds of Geneva residents (62.4 percent) had a migrant background, while the figure was just short of 50 percent in Vaud, Ticino and Basel. Zurich had a total of 548,000 residents with a migrant background, making up 43 percent of the canton’s total population. 

The figures used in the report were released in November 2019 from the Swiss Federal Statistical Office. 

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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”.