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”.