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POLICE

Family of four die after plunging from Swiss balcony

Four members of a French family plunged to their deaths Thursday from a seventh-floor balcony in the Swiss town of Montreux, leaving a teenager seriously injured.

Photo: PHILIPPE DESMAZES / AFP
A file photo of a police sign in front of a hotel in the Swiss town of Montreux. Photo: Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

Five members of the same family, a 40-year-old man, his 41-year-old wife and her twin sister, along with the couple’s eight-year-old daughter and a 15-year-old son went off the balcony of a building in the heart of Montreux, police said.

All of them except the son died when they hit the ground, while the boy was taken to hospital in serious condition, the Vaud cantonal police said.

All of those involved were French citizens, it said.

Police said the incident occurred after two officers showed up at the building, across from Montreux’s famous Casino, to execute a warrant for the father in connection with the home-schooling of one of the children.

The officers knocked on the door and heard a voice ask who they were.

After they answered, the apartment went quiet.

After failing to make contact, the officers left, but “in the meantime, a witness called the police to say that people had fallen from an apartment balcony,” the statement said.

“We do not know yet whether they fell or if this drama was due to other circumstances,” police spokesman Jean-Christophe Sauterel told the RTS public broadcaster.

An investigation has been opened, but police have already concluded that the incident happened “behind closed doors”, and that no one else was in the apartment at the time, he said.

‘Like a bad movie’ 

The officers at the apartment door had been there to execute a warrant for the father in connection with the home-schooling of the son, police said.

They knocked on the door and heard a voice ask who they were, but once they answered, the apartment went quiet, it said. After failing to make contact, the officers left, but “in the meantime, a witness called the police to say that people had fallen from an apartment balcony,” the statement said.

The bodies were found at the foot of the building, near Montreux’s famous Casino at around 7:00 am (0600 GMT). “I saw five bodies around 10 metres from the building, three on one side and two on the other,” one neighbour told the Tribune de Geneve daily.

“It was difficult to understand what I was seeing. It was like a bad movie.” Sauterel said the witness who called had seen the family members hit the ground, and was receiving professional support.

A number of other people connected with the drama, as well as first responders had also been offered counselling, he said.

The family were all French citizens who had been living in Switzerland for “several years” and had resident status, he said.

“We know that this was a rather reserved family, with little contact with the outside,” Sauterel told AFP, adding that they had had no run-ins with the law beyond the issue around the son’s schooling.

That case, he explained, had surfaced because the family had failed to respond to requests for information from school authorities, which are routine when a child is home-schooled. “Police were asked to pick up the father so he could explain the schooling situation of his child,” he explained.

According to the Tribune de Geneve, neighbours said the father appeared to have been working from home. The mother was a dentist who had worked in Paris, while her twin sister was an ophthalmologist.

Home schooling in Switzerland

Home schooling is heavily restricted in Switzerland, with some cantons banning the practice outright and others regulating it heavily. 

Homeschooling is more popular in the French-speaking part of the country. 

Of the 1,000 children who are homeschooled in Switzerland, approximately 600 of them are in the canton of Vaud. 

Vaud and neighbour Neuchâtel are considered to be one of the most permissive of homeschooling in Switzerland. 

In these cantons, you only need to alert the authorities if you plan on homeschooling your children – although there have been recent signs this will be further restricted in future. 

EXPLAINED: What are the rules for homeschooling children in Switzerland?

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SWISS CITIZENSHIP

EXPLAINED: How Switzerland wants to cut social assistance for non-Europeans

The Swiss government has unveiled a proposal which would cut social assistance for non-European residents. Here’s what you need to know.

EXPLAINED: How Switzerland wants to cut social assistance for non-Europeans

As part of a draft revision of the law on foreigners and integration, the Federal Council is proposing to reduce social assistance paid to nationals of third countries.

“During the first three years following the granting a residence permit, the rate of social assistance should be lower than that applied to the native population”, authorities said.

The rationale of the plan is to “create incentives for better work integration”. 

The proposal has been developed by Justice Minister Karin Keller-Sutter. 

The project was in a consultation phase until May 3rd, after which it will be presented to Swiss parliament.

The cut would save an estimated three million francs per year nationwide. 

What does the proposal say? 

Under the plan, the amount of social assistance will be reduced in the first three years for foreigners in Switzerland, provided they come from outside the EU. 

The social aid paid to non-Europeans is already relatively low, with amounts varying from CHF600 to CHF1,000 depending on the canton. 

READ MORE: How Switzerland wants to cut welfare and boost integration for non-EU citizens

Anyone who has a ‘C’ category residency permit and who receives social assistance will lose it more easily than under the previous scheme. 

The law will also see a more defined set of requirements for integration for temporarily admitted persons. 

In addition, the Federal Statistical Office should regularly report accurate figures of how many foreigners are receiving social assistance. 

In addition, the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) must approve the extension of residency permits of individuals who incur “significant” social welfare costs. 

Keller-Sutter will also draw up a uniform set of recommendations for social assistance for foreigners for the cantons. 

What are people saying? 

While the proposal has not yet been finalised, the idea has sparked heavy criticism, while some foreigners are fearful of what it might mean for them should the assistance be lowered. 

A spokesperson for the Social Democrats told Swiss tabloid Blick a cut would be “unworldly and cynical”, while the Greens say such a move would be unconstitutional. 

The proposal sparked criticism from the Swiss Workers’ Welfare Organisation, whose spokesperson, Caroline Morel, pointed out that “in social assistance, the amount of support benefits is calculated according to needs and not the length of stay in Switzerland”.

“We oppose the downgrading of the residence status of foreigners who receive social assistance. We also oppose lower social assistance rates for the first three years, as these are inhumane and hinder professional and social integration.”

“It is clear that these tightening measures will primarily affect vulnerable people such as children, people with special needs, and women”, she added.

The Swiss People’s Party on the other hand have spoken out in favour of the changes, saying it would help curb increases in social assistance contributions. 

 

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