How do the Swiss feel about freedom of movement with the EU?

Most Swiss are in favour of allowing people from the EU and EFTA countries to continue working in Switzerland, a new poll shows. But will the referendum in May reflect that?

How do the Swiss feel about freedom of movement with the EU?

More than half of respondents to an online poll conducted by a Zurich-based media company, Tamedia, said they are against a referendum drive by the far right to stop the free movement of citizens from the European Union.

The Swiss People’s Party (SVP) has launched a campaign to end the “uncontrolled and disproportionate immigration” from the EU, a proposal that will be voted on in a nationwide referendum on May 17th.

But Tamedia’s survey of about 11,000 people across Switzerland found that 58 percent of respondents were against SVP’s idea, 35 percent approved it, and 7 percent had no opinion.

Claiming that foreigners take jobs away from the Swiss, the SVP wants to nullify the free-movement accord, which guarantees the right of EU and EFTA (Norway and Iceland) nationals to work and live in Switzerland freely. 

READ MORE: Record number of foreign workers commute to Switzerland from abroad

But the government argues that workers from the EU/EFTA member states are needed by the Swiss labour market and do not threaten Swiss jobs.

The free-movement accord is one of over 100 bilateral agreements that the Swiss signed with Brussels; this and other treaties allow Switzerland to access EU’s single market — a crucial outlet for the export-reliant Swiss economy.

More than 30,000 EU/EFTA nationals moved to Switzerland in 2018 — half the record number of 60,957 who came in previous years.

And over 325,000 cross-border workers from Germany, Italy, and France commute to Switzerland each day

One of Switzerland’s major parties with over 30 percent of seats in the parliament, the SVP has long campaigned to curb the influx of immigrants; it also opposes closer ties between Switzerland and the EU.

Tensions between the Bern and the Brussels date back to 2014 when Swiss voters backed another SVP-powered referendum – the ‘against mass immigration' initiative –which aimed to impose limits on immigration from EU countries and therefore protect the rights, and high incomes, of Swiss workers.

Aware that implementing the measures restricting EU freedom of movement contained in the referendum text could seriously threaten Swiss access to the European Common Market, the Swiss parliament finally approved a watered-down version of the initiative.

This involved imposing new rules on unemployment which should limit the impact of foreign workers on the domestic job market.

But the parliament’s decision to pass a “lite” version of the mass immigration initiative angered the SVP while it failed to fully satisfy Brussels over the issue of access of EU workers to the Swiss job market.



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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”.