Foreigners ‘scared’ to leave abusive partners: report

The attitude of the Swiss authorities to foreigners who are victims of domestic abuse must change, a Geneva-based organization supporting the rights of foreigners in Switzerland has said.

Foreigners ‘scared’ to leave abusive partners: report
Photo: Bek Assine

Married foreigners from outside the EU whose residence permit depends on their spouse’s are often scared of leaving their abusive partner for fear of their permit being withdrawn, says a new report by the Observer for the rights of asylum-seekers and foreigners in French-speaking Switzerland (ODAE).

Published to coincide with International Women’s Day on Tuesday, the ODAE’s report said domestic violence is often under-estimated in Switzerland.

According to the federal statistics office, 15 women in Switzerland were killed by their spouse in 2014 and a further 25 were victims of attempted murder.

For foreigners whose residency depends on their partner’s status, “many hesitate to leave their spouse and report the abuse, often putting their lives in danger”, said the report.

In principle, foreign dependents are protected by law should the marriage fail due to domestic abuse.

Article 50 of the foreigners’ law counts marital violence as one of the ‘important personal reasons’ which allow a spouse to stay in Switzerland in their own right after leaving their partner.

But in practice that isn’t so straightforward, as victims must be able to prove the abuse, something that is hard for many beaten wives, Mélissa Llorens, coordinator for the ODAE, told newspaper Le Tribune de Genève.

“Medical notes are often not accepted by the authorities,” she told the paper.

“According to the supreme court you must also demonstrate that the abuse is systematic – something that is very difficult and not willingly accepted by the law.”

This aspect of the law was also picked up by Amnesty International in its 2015/16 annual report, released in February, which criticized the so-called ‘severity threshold’ used to assess cases of domestic abuse between foreign nationals.

In addition, under Article 50 foreigners must also prove they are sufficiently integrated in Switzerland to be able to hold a residence permit in their own right.

“Violence has serious consequences and victims sometimes have trouble finding and keeping jobs. Abuse hampers integration and these consequences are not sufficiently taken into account,” said Llorens.

Progress has been made on the issue especially in the canton of Vaud, Llorens told the paper, but more must be done.

Authorities should take into account the opinion of domestic abuse specialists and better recognize victims, she said.

“These questions should be part of the basic training for administrative staff.”

“We should also drop the requirement to demonstrate the intensity of the violence and its systematic nature,” she added.

Any children resulting from such marriages should also be considered, she said.

“They are direct victims of the violence between the couple and risk being sent away with their mother even if they have spent their whole life in Switzerland.”

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Immigrants make positive contributions to Swiss social system

Since Switzerland introduced free movement, EU and EFTA nationals have not strained the country’s public insurance system, as some critics claim.

Immigrants make positive contributions to Swiss social system

Switzerland and the EU signed the Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons (AFMP), to lift restrictions on EU citizens wishing to live or work in Switzerland, in 1999. It came into force in 2002, and also applies to citizens of EFTA member states.

In their bid to limit immigration, right-wing parties have been arguing that foreigners too often abuse Switzerland’s social structure by relying on welfare instead of contributing to society.

However, these claims are false, according to the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO), as reported by Neue Zürcher Zeitung this week.

In fact, by being gainfully employed and paying into the obligatory social security scheme, immigrants have had a positive effect on the old-age AHV / AVS pension, as well as on disability and health insurance, SECO said.

For instance, in the past they contributed 27.1 percent to the financing of the AHV / AVS, while drawing only 15.2 percent of it.

In terms of disability insurance, foreign nationals paid 26.5 percent into the scheme, receiving only 14.9 percent of benefits in return. 
With regard to the compulsory health insurance, SECO assumed “that most EU nationals in Switzerland are currently of working age and in fairly good health. They therefore represent an advantage” to the system.

There is, however, a downside as well.

In 2020, when many people in Switzerland were laid off due to the Covid pandemic, immigrants weighed more heavily on unemployment insurance. They paid 25.5 percent of contributions while receiving 32.8 percent of benefits.

This situation is not unusual though, SECO said, since more foreigners than Swiss work in sectors more prone to unemployment, such as construction and the hotel industry.

READ MORE: How foreigners are changing Switzerland